It seems that social networking sites are almost “old news” these days. As a media platform, social networking sites (SNS) have been around since the late 1990s, and today the popular SNS Facebook.com boasts more than 350 million active users (nevermind all those people who’ve registered for accounts never to actually use them).
So what’s next for SNS? For 2010, geo-tagging and geo-targeting appear to be the latest trends. The AP recently reported on the emergence of the SNS Foursquare.com as one of the latest buzz-sites. What’s the buzz about? Foursquare – which currently has over 100,000 users in 100 cities – is basically a social network for your immediate circle of friends (and a way to meet people nearby). You report where you’re at currently, and where you’ve been recently, and it’s mapped and tracked on Foursquare. The catch is, you earn points for checking in to locations, and the most recent person to check in becomes the “mayor”. So you compete against your friends to earn points. It sounds simple, but can become very addictive.
Foursquare isn’t alone. A number of other companies are venturing into the geo-SNS space. Google recently launched Latitude, phones are increasingly supporting GPS, and Windows 7 and Mac’s Snow Leopard will soon be enable to actively report location for laptop users.
Not that this is anything new for academics. In 2007, Lee Humphreys (now at Cornell University‘s Department of Communication) wrote an article looking how users form social groups and social ties in mobile networks. What’s so new in 2010? For one, there’s a much large network of resources available for users of these networks. With more and more users having GPS-enabled devices, it’s easier to share your location with others. And the evolution of SNS has made people more comfortable with the notion that others will know where you’re at. Advertisers are tapping into this trend too, as Ad Age notes in an article this week. Geo-SNS and geo-targeting are allowing advertisers to target consumers based not only on what they do, but also where they are at.
Interesting right? And for us, as researchers, the relationship between “location” and “network formation” looks to be an area for future work. Happy Holidays.