Social Network technology is only as useful as we make it. There will, however, be a point when it gets old or outlives its usefulness if all we are doing is connecting for the sake of connecting. If it's going to be more than a fad in the history books, then there should be something more than sharing information, displaying our music and video preferences, making introductions, playing games, and poking each other. Now would be a good time to figure out what to do with it.
Here are a few ideas. They center around a yet-to-catch on term . . . Social Network Commerce.
Some departments already distinguish between a crime in progress and the need to take a report (especially for insurance purposes). They have non-sworn personnel that either take your report on the phone or at your home. These reports are usually not followed up on unless other developments occur separately (like the recovery of a bunch of property). This program provides a convenience to the citizen and limits the cost (and the need for additional on-duty sworn officers) for the police department.
So stick your imagination cap on and think about this . . . you realize that your yard art has been damaged, your mailbox has been smashed, or your neighbor's car has been vandalized. Your local police department recently installed a social network precinct, and you already added them as a "preferred location." This virtual precinct takes reports around the clock, using either text or voice input. Follow up consists of a text confirmation or a phone call, and you can check the status of your report at any time.
Upon submission of your report, you check the block that allows your neighbors to see the type of report and a general description of what you reported. You limit their personal information visibility to the street you live on, not wanting to get a bunch of visits or calls from any nosey neighbors. You also check the block that provides you with updates. In a few moments, everyone in your neighborhood (that opted in) has received a text message or recorded voice message) with a brief summary, including the time frame you reported.
Within a couple of hours, you receive a text message that another resident on your street just reported something similar (they checked their stuff after getting the message), and you choose to allow them to communicate with you in a protected area -- accessible to you and your neighbor and the police only. You chat with your neighbor and realize that you saw the same car in your neighborhood, or that both of your teenage daughters knew the same "troublemaker," or . . . you get the point.
Would this benefit the people in the neighborhood?
Why do people spend more for milk and food at "convenience stores?" Because they are convenient. No matter what time it is, or how clear the parking lot is, the grocery store is rarely confused with something resembling "convenience." So why not shorten the time that it tales to get the essentials?
OK, this type of thing has been tried before -- with Webvan, Peapod, and the like, but it was a few years ago and those models were based more on delivery. Imagine you are in front of your computer and you are trying to squeeze in time to stop by the grocery store where you just need "a few things." Your local store recently developed (or joined) a social network storefront, and you already added them as a "preferred location." This store keeps a record (only for your benefit) of your frequent purchases, and allows you to import/export the list as a CSV file for use on your computer or smartphone (or pda, of course). They take orders for up to 15 items around the clock, also using text or voice input. You receive a text (email or SMS) confirmation or a recorded call, and you can check the status of your order at any time -- even in traffic!
You know that between 4:30 and 4:45 PM, you will be passing by the store. You access their site and click 14 of the 15 frequent purchases, and then search for a not-so-frequent purchase. You submit the order and pay for it in advance using your debit/credit/whatever card, and receive a confirmation that the order will be ready. Your order comes up on the screen in the store at 4:20, and one of the baggers is handed your shopping list and a cart.
At 4:45 you pull up to the drive through window, and the clerk recognizes you. After confirming that you want paper, not plastic, you receive two paper bags, inspect each one, and are on your way as (or more) quickly as if you had stopped at the fast-food restaurant of your choice. You are home in record time, and didn't even have to get out of your car.
Local Shopping Areas
OK, imagine this. There are a number of businesses in your city that realize that we have increasingly busy lives. They band "together" (or even better, are united by a pre-established organization like the Chamber of Commerce) to provide you what you want -- a pleasurable shopping experience. Each store provides a list of a certain number of their wares on a site and allows you to see what they have -- before you head off for downtown. That way, you can make sure you find what you are looking for (guaranteeing them a sale), and you have more time to "enjoy" the experience (and spend money at the local coffee shop afterwards). They might even allow you to purchase the item for pickup, or allow you to pay for it with your cell phone and your mobile bank account when you arrive, but that's another post.
So would this work? Jay Deragon's recent post makes the observation that "A business is driven by the need to produce revenue and subsequent profits for its stakeholders." Doesn't that mean that business are in business to be profitable? Shouldn't that mean they provide value to the consumer? For most people who like the "get in and get out" shopping method, I think it's a winner. Doc Searls is focusing on VRM (Vendor Relationship Management), and recently observed that "the Net has been seen as a way to remove the humanity from markets." This strategy gives a bit of a nod to humanity, while still offering convenience -- something we are demanding (whether we receive it or not) more and more. I realize some people enjoy "the hunt" and that actually purchasing something is not part of the game. It won't be mandatory that we pre-order, but it sure would be convenient. These two shopping types can co-exist easily, and meet for coffee afterwards!
Why does this represent the death of social networking as we know it? Because Social Network Commerce takes it to a new level. "Computers" were there. They needed people to use them for more than gaming before they were widely accepted. "The Internet" was there. It needed something for people to do on it besides just "be on it." And now, Social Networking is there. If we don't use it as a commodity then it will remain a hobby, or even worse -- an expense (think about the bass boat in your back yard) and those don't pay the bills.
What do you think?