Sonar's Search For Your Second Degree
originally published in MediaPost's Social Media Insider
Let's play a game. I'm going to throw out a bunch of statements, each one of which builds on the one before it. Your score is the highest numbered statement that describes you. Be honest, as there's no reward for having the highest score.
1) I am a person.
2) I use a mobile device.
3) I at least occasionally engage in some form of social media usage via my mobile device, such as social networking, tweeting, blogging, or sharing multimedia.
4) I at least occasionally use an application to engage in social media usage from my mobile device.
5) Of the applications I have used for mobile social media usage, I have used at least one to share my location, whether publicly or with select friends.
6) Along with having shared my location through a mobile social media application, on at least one occasion I have used such an application to see if I knew anyone either at my location or somewhere nearby.
7) I have met someone that I know at my location or nearby that location with the assistance of a mobile social location-based application.
8) Not only have I met someone I know at or near my location thanks to a mobile social location-based application, but I have also used such an application to find out information about a second-degree contact (i.e., a friend of a friend).
9) I haven't just met at least one first-degree contact via a mobile social location-based application; I have met a second-degree contact that way too. I noted to this second-degree contact the people and perhaps the interests we have in common.
10) I've used a mobile application to scan the faces of several people in the room, identify by how many degrees we are connected, and strike up conversations with them based on our mutual connections and interests.
This list could go further, though it would quickly become a work of science fiction. As it's laid out here, 1 and 2 applies to nearly everybody, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere. Number 3 applies to most mobile users, and 5 and 6 are fairly common. It's 6 where the largest drop-off happens, especially as that moves into 7. Few probably realize how easy it is to do number 8, number 9 is possible now but makes some people squirm, and I don't even score a 10 here, although such prototypes have been developed.
It's number 9 that fascinates me now, as I've done this on multiple occasions thanks to an application called Sonar (see sonar.me, not .com). It's not for everyone. As of now, it's only for people with Apple mobile devices, and the app is based on Foursquare. Once you connect your Foursquare account with Sonar and tie in your Facebook and Twitter accounts, you unlock a new layer of social information wherever you go.
Consider this example. I was in Atlanta presenting at a Social Media Club event. I pulled up the application and asked if a Terry Coniglio was present. She raised her hand, somewhat tentatively, as if I was about to either tell her that she had left her car's lights on or I was seeking a volunteer to be sawed in half. Instead, I informed her that we shared at least 25 Twitter friends. We had a starting point for a connection, and after the presentation, I was able to kick back, sip my sweet tea vodka, and talk with Terry about whom we knew in common.
As I write this, there's someone at a nearby Whole Foods with whom I share 31 Facebook friends. He doesn't have that much to say on Twitter, so I won't follow him just yet. There's someone at 24 Hour Fitness near me who knows an old digital media friend. The two of us both like StyleCaster and PSFK – though no other interests are shared. He happens to be working out with a former colleague, someone with whom I have more than 100 shared connections. If I ever worked out at a 24 Hour Fitness, or worked out anywhere outside my Xbox Kinect-equipped living room, perhaps I could go there and introduce the two of them.
What do you make of all of this? For most people I know, it goes too far in overreaching perceived bounds of privacy, even those who are frequently using mobile social location-based services. It's like when I looked outside and caught a naked guy in the building across the street; he was probably fine being naked as long as he wasn't aware that anyone could see him.
As for me, I love having more information about my surroundings — including the people there. As facial recognition technologies become more pervasive, I'll be the first to creep out all of my friends, assuming they don't defriend me too quickly.
As I was getting to know Sonar, I wound up at a wedding in Cincinnati where I sat next to a total stranger whose parents happened to live in the same apartment building as my grandmother; we soon realized they literally lived next door to each other. My grandmother now thanks me for the inadvertent introduction to her new friends.
What if I wasn't sitting next to that guy, out of all the weddings in all the towns in all the world? Who else at that wedding might I be connected to in ways I never got to discover? Could Sonar, or the generations of applications to come, help piece that together? Or should we steer clear of these apps entirely and appreciate the serendipity that emerges from being the social creatures that we are?
As much as I love these apps — as much as I will soon score a 10 on this list and will embrace scoring a 20 on next year's — the most important part is number 1. You're a person, I'm a person, and there's probably some shred of shared humanity between us. Appreciate that, and the rest is insignificant. We'll always strive for shared connections with each other, regardless of how we choose to bring them about.