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IDEA #4 – The MySpace Killer? Proximity Social Networking

I have said in the past that if MySpace is v1.0 of social networking, then MyBlogLog is v2.0 of social networking. So what’s v3.0? It’s proximity (geolocation, “in-the-vicinity”) social networking.

The software you’d be running would look like an Instant Messenger application — it would show a buddy list of people that are within 100 feet of you. This software connects to others’ wifi cards, kind of P2P-ish, so that you can “know” who is within 100 feet range of you (100 feet is the typical distance for wifi 802.11b/g cards in laptops). This software then shares information on the people that you’re connected to, with everyone that is connected to you — thus, I might see “User1” and User1 is connected to User400 (but not me) — so User400 might appear in my buddy list, but as a “second degree” (~200 ft) physical contact. You could then find someone to randomly chat with or play a game with – “you’ve received an invite from Margot7448 to play chess”.

Benefit: This could get you to meet new people — rather than just having virtual friends and relationships, you could meet someone in person right then. Imagine if you were a single male and interested in meeting other single females — you’d see your buddy list, could browse the profiles of people you’re near (what are their interests?), and then… text chat with one instantly — see if there are some sparks, and then chat in person. Obviously, there would need to be security measures — because this potentially opens a can of worms for stalkers, pedophiles, and other criminals.

Users would have privacy controls — you could choose not to broadcast yourself on the network at the time; or have yourself hidden from specific users; have your profile hidden (allowing only your friends to view your full profile), etc.

Who: I think college students and high-density apartment communities would make this software truly explode — they could learn who else is in/near their apartment building; so you’d get to learn who your neighbors are and whether there are any similar interests. No one knows their neighbors anymore — well, most — wouldn’t it be great to learn who your neighbors are? And imagine you being able to broadcast items you have for sale or wanted — thus if you do live in an apartment community, you could search the ‘for sale’ or ‘wanted’ listings of people around your vicinity.

Some Technical Details: Basically, you’d have a profile on this new social networking service. You’d install a piece of software — on your Windows PC, it’d reside in your system tray. If you have a wifi card, this software would create a second “virtual” wifi card — thus, your PC would think it has 2 wifi cards. This new virtual wifi card would broadcast yourself and sniff out others near you (that your PC can “see” via them broadcasting themselves). Typically your wifi card can only connect to other networks within roughly 100 feet of you — so you’d be seeing those that are 100 feet from you (and then those that are connected to the people you’re directly connected to).

  • Steve Poland

    Jambo is a proximity based social networking tool. It uses WIFI to connect people with similar interests via their PDAs, laptops, and cellphones. It doesn’t require an Internet connection. The program is in Beta and currently available via invitation only.

  • Marshall Kirkpatrick

    Sounds good Steve. I’d look closely at Dodgeball and Twitter, see what they have to teach re this kind of thing. The big question I’d have is wether there is demand for this kind of thing or wether people like having a basically distinct online life.

  • John Wehr

    The main difference is that Meetro works on a slightly larger scale, starting around a radius of 1/4 mile.

    From their FAQ:

    “Meetro is a “location-aware social messenger” What that means in english is that Meetro combines all the fun aspects of ‘Social Networks’, with all the real-time communications of ‘Instant Messengers’, wraps that around location, and finally adds two fist full’s of photos and profiles.

    Meetro is software that allows you to see who is logged in nearby, right now, and start chatting with them INSTANTLY. It’s completely photo and profile based. It’s so simple to get up and running. As soon as you sign on, you’ll see people online that you can talk to. You’ll also see us here at the Meetro HQ, we’re here to answer any of your questions, comments, and feedback. It’s easy to stay in touch with your existing friends who are already on Meetro, or you can connect to your AIM, MSN, and Yahoo accounts on the PC.”

  • Blaze

    Yeah i was going to say Meetro… i installed it yesterday but it’s not that good, there’s no one at all near me (they are all in the USA) and the software is a bit crappy but the idea is certainly there.

  • Anon

    I find this idea technically interesting, but socially creepy. Still, I love reading the ideas!

  • dan

    I’ve thought about an idea similar to this – but the idea would be to put the app on a mobile phone and use bluetooth. You walk into a pub – and can see if you have connections to anyone close enough – what the degree of separation is etc… becomes a talking point that you can use to introduce yourself: ‘oh i see you know x – I also know x’ etc. The idea is gold – not sure about technical feasability.

  • Patrick Gardner

    The allure of myspace is popularity – I can go on there and check my favourite bands (I’m 19, a musician and even though I can’t stand the site design and hate the scene kiddies… I like being able to hear new songs and make sure I know where next weeks show is) I think geocentric things need “big names” that are not only big, but well spaced. Which would prove a problem initially.

    There are plugins (check stickam or myspace) that have a map kind of thing and lets people tag where they are on someone else’s page…

    Proximity based stuff does exist over bluetooth. I’ve got a nokia e61 (symbian s60) which has had a program called bluejack that does this.
    Similar applications exist (e.g. dream chat) but most seem to be sis based as opposed to java. Only java one I can see around is bluechat – No idea how good it would be.

    Windows live messenger is more widely available on phones now. There is actually a genuine S60 client out in some countries (china). Would be easy for MS to integrate a “who’s near me” contacts list that dynamically updates itself or whatever – so that when people come into the area you can decide whether they can send you online messages, offline ones (sent to email/sms) or whatever.
    Perhaps these settings could be totally dynamically allocated based on whether they know someone in your contact list or whatever. Just a thought.

  • Ryan

    Seems rather creepy that you are checking into a person’s background/likes/dislikes who is standing within 100 feet of you. Whatever happened to the friendly “Hello”? When you have to consult your computer before talking to someone right next to you, it no longer is a social network, it’s an anti-social network.

  • Faisal

    With social networking emerging on cellphones, this would be a great added feature that you can chose to turn off. Imagine having a hit-man using this to track you down hehe.

  • Mahei

    This idea could be boosted into a dating service that parallels the concept of linkedin. One would get ‘integrity’ points from fellow users within the community. The points you get, the more trustworthy you are. However, measures wold have to be implemented to prevent people from creating multiple aliases to boost their rankings.

    This idea would be great if you’re out of a Friday night and you wanted to share a cab home with other people to split the fare. Or you could have a ‘speed feast’ where people within your vicinity meet at a restaurant and share a huge feast together. This is speed dating with a twist.

    Keep up the ideation 😉

  • Martin Dufort

    Wow Steve!!!… Seems you just took a page of our design notebook and put it on your blog.

    What you call 1st and 2nd degree of separation, we call close encounters and we do that analysis on-the-fly using our proprietary engine.

    But this thing in inherently related to you being mobile, so for this to gets some 4wd traction, we need to support mobile devices, either basic ones (using sms) or more advanced ones (using custom software on the mobile) and a seamless with the web.

    Check out our website and blog and feel free to contact me to get more information.
    We will be opening a new round of beta in the next few weeks. I will send you and invitation so you can test it out.

    Thanks – Martin

  • Sean

    1. facebook is already the “myspace in my area with less BS and not resembling something a 6th grade skript kiddie would copy-and-paste together in an afternoon.”
    2. This requires some sort of gadget AND you can already do it with bluetooth in cellphones and the proper software (i had this about 3 years ago on my nokia 6600)
    3. MS Zune already does this and could have a firmware update to do exactly what you propose. Now try and find someone with another Zune. Now see if they aren’t a sweaty 30-something dude that pays MUDs in his mom’s basement. Yeah.

  • Sean

    4. Meeting new people for the first time over a gadget then in real life in such a short period of time can be creepy. Think chat room then you walk into the other room and bump into “hotNsExAy18” and it’s a 26yo with a kid. Creepy.

  • Steve Poland

    This looks like it could be it —

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  • Anonymous

    Love this post, read and re-read. I have a very similar idea, called Oraqui. Are you still interested in some Proximity social network, where the business I think would be a lot profitable?
    Hope to hear you soon.

    From Italy, Paolo.

  • Steve Poland

    I’m not, but I still believe an opportunity exists!