In our quest to understand things as quickly as possible, we often sacrifice a complete understanding. There does come a point of diminishing returns, when the additional benefit does not justify the cost of pursuit. It’s a classic case of marginal utility.
But when it comes to the higher-minded concepts of Social Networking and Privacy, are we as focused as we need to be on the moving parts instead of just the face of the clock?
Let’s take Twitter as an example. It’s the world’s dumbest waste of time, except for those who have figured out how it makes them smarter. It’s a stupid collection of bad day paeans and ham sandwich ennui. Yet it’s also an engine for connecting people with one another, and sharing information through networks pre-lubricated by trust.
Well, when you put it that way, it sounds awesome. And it can be, when people focus on what the technology does instead of how people are using it.
What Twitter does is bring real-time to everywhere. The distance that separates us reduced, entire dimensions fold in on themselves and hide between status lines. The world is a smaller place.
In my Twitter evolution, I’ve found myself using a variety of tools and strategies for meeting the needs of the time. And certainly the size and diversity (or lack thereof) of your network can have profound impact on what you can do, and what your optimal use case might be. Once I figured out some ways Twitter could benefit me professionally, I was able to see past ham sandwiches and focus on the delivery of value.
Foursquare’s Ham Sandwich Problem.
The next budding network lurking on the horizon of mainstream consciousness is Foursquare. And right now, the traffic on it is painfully pedestrian. It’s a location-aware network, which is a fancy way to say it collects geographic data instead of just letters and numbers.
If you look at Foursquare now, you’d write it off as – at best – a gigantic waste of time; and – at worst – an open invitation to the world to invade your privacy (if not your unoccupied residence.) And you’d be right. Most of the “players” of Foursquare think of it as anything other than a silly game. Ask a user what Foursquare is about, and they will almost blush with embarrassment as they explain it.
“Um… Well… You go to places and then you open the app and check in, and if you check in more than anyone else, you become Mayor!”
“Really, the Mayor?”
“…and if you’re lucky, the owner of the restaurant will give you a discount or a coupon if you’re mayor!”
You probably just blushed while reading that.
Ask most people, and they’ve never heard of it.
Ask people who’ve even used it, and they can’t explain it.
And if you can’t adequately describe what it does, how are you supposed to come up with new and clever ways of exploiting it?
FourSquare’s Ham Sandwich Solution.
Where Foursquare excels is in using physical space to help segregate the information you can act upon from the information that is just noise.
If I go to a deli in Cleveland and have a ham sandwich that transcends food and becomes a life-altering experience, I would want to tell the world about it. And you can do that now on Facebook or Twitter:
“I just had a ham sandwich that changed my world forever at a little dive called Maury’s!”
But if you are four states away, that doesn’t help you. And I seriously doubt you will remember Maury’s five months later when fate brings you to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
What Foursquare then delivers is a compression of time instead of space. Where Twitter is all about everything happening in the now, Foursquare provides a way to sort through everything that has happened in the where. And there are many occasions where the where is even more important than the when.
Here are a couple of easy ways Foursquare could be making real money:
FourSquare plays ball
MLB and NFL venues could use it to promote badges for significant milestones, like “Was there for Manning’s record TD pass.” It’s easy enough, and it would create a real buzz about being there for events. 60,000 people may be seated in the stadium, but 600,000 will claim it later. FourSquare would provide the proof.
All it would take is an easier way to create Events – essentially a marriage of the When and the Where information already stored.
Checkpoints on the Cheap
Imagine what FourSquare could do if it simply offered a premium white-labeled service for companies that needed verification.
A private security firm could create its own secure and closed Squarish community. It could invite its clients to join as well, so they could be just a log-in away from seeing how often the patrols were where they ought to be. The guards would simply check in through the familiar technology, offering peace of mind.
Companies could use the white-labeled geo-tagging innovation for any number of internal purposes. Flag important information about the areas where crew members travel. Could be safety-related, could be client related. Makes it easy to post, and the information would only be retrieved at the time when you’re in the exact location where it is relevant.
Again, it’s not what people are already doing with the technology. It’s what they could be doing with it. If you can step back and look at a tool for what it is instead of what it is doing, you can become an essential resource for your company.