reflections

The Social Sphere of Reach and returning to the Microsocial from the Macrosocial

I have always imagined my Social Graph, before the term Social Graph or even Social Networking existed, as a sort of radar with me at the center (of course) and all my friends as blips within my sphere of reach. I would try to keep as many as close to the center but despite my efforts some always just drifted outwards to the edges of my reach, and eventually off and out of my sphere entirely. Time and distance have always been the two most significant factors as to why and how those blips drifted off the radar and out of my sphere.

What I have been seeing is that after a phase of extreme macrosocial expansion through services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, is that there is a simultaneous return and push towards microsocial. I view the macrosocial as ways to broadcast bits about yourself to the general populous in a spray kind of way. While microsocial would be more targeted, possibly online, but mostly in person, face-to-face, one-to-one, or personal gatherings of small groups . Look to the success of Meetup and the millions of gatherings that regularly take place, as one of the most obvious examples. I just heard that one million RSVPs happen every month and that number is ever growing. How about the use of LinkedIn to actually facilitate introductions and coffees/lunches? Or Twitter/Facebook to organize and attend events/happenings, from birthday parties to flashmobs and even on a larger scale, protests? As Scott from Meetup said at the 140Conf last week, Meetup users are using the Internet to get off the Internet. Hallelujah.

So all these social networking services have addressed my time issue from above but not much about distance. That’s where Geo and location based services come in. Location brings proximity, and with proximity we head back towards intimacy – just physically being with and around people again, and thus addressing the need for the interpersonal. I am seeing a little bit from some of the location based services that are starting to discuss and implement how to use social connections within networks (friends, followers, et al) and physical proximity to initiate and encourage conversation and relationships, and it’s that convergence which is really exciting. Foursquare, Gowalla, and the plethora of other LBS are clearly exploring the raw power of location with checkins, services like Plancast are starting to bring real social to events, and Yammer is killing it with their micro-group chat/collaboration, but I don’t feel like the true power of social connectivity + realtime + proximity has been established yet. I need services that allow me to keep as many people as possible within my sphere of reach, in real-time, and do it all proactively. Hmm, maybe it’s a Social Distance Ratio? How far are individuals from you and what can you do to decrease it?

Don’t get me wrong, there is something glorious about being able to broadcast and share something with many many people out there in the virtual world, but we are innately social creatures in need of contact and physical proximity. Don’t agree? Just work from home for a while and see how long you can go without needing to interact.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but posts by Steve Cheney and Scott from Imabignerd helped crystallize my thoughts a bit (links below) – so thank you.

Steve’s post:
http://stevecheney.posterous.com/foursquare-geolocation-and-product-technology

Scott’s post:
http://imabignerd.com/2010/04/27/foursquare-and-the-death-of-privacy/