As social grows more mobile and the trends continue to move towards things like geolocation, will the continued growth be slowed by what can only be described as a gender problem? I started wondering about this the other day after reading Shel Holtz’s post about Planely, a social network designed to connect travelers.
The benefit of the Planely social network is straightforward–by connecting with other travelers, you can share cabs, meet before conferences, and so on. I agree with Shel that the concept of connecting prior to a flight to sit together is less of a benefit–I happen to prefer to get on a plane, politely nod and exchange a few pleasantries with my neighbors, and then immerse myself in a book or other reading material.
Planely is logical and makes sense for travelers. But it still leaves me with an uneasy feeling. Phrases from the video about the network like “…showing you others with overlapping itineraries,” and connecting you “with others staying at your hotel,” go fully against the grain of everything I was taught as a female who used to travel extensively for work, alone.
Has the world changed so much for the better that women traveling alone can and should connect with strangers? Or is this a social tool that while designed to help everyone, will end up being used primarily by men, not for some nefarious or intentionally biased reason, but simply because women have been conditioned to be more careful?
I’m sure some will point out that the probability of something happening while traveling is slim. True. But I’ve also had an acquaintance who was on the receiving end of considerable unwanted attention. It never quite got to the level of outright stalking, but it definitely made her uncomfortable. I sincerely doubt she’ll ever reach a point where she’d be comfortable sharing travel information.
MediaPost recently wrote about the Location-based Gender Divide noting that there is a “wide disparity in adoption rates” between men and women when it comes to “check-in” services like Foursquare and Gowalla. The piece further notes that of course, women have the ability to set privacy settings and manage social networks and keep their locations private. But doesn’t that defeat the purpose? And, as the article notes this limits the utility to marketers (I think that’s a pretty nuanced way of saying that it makes the information almost worthless to marketers). On top of this we have Facebook’s recent announcement (and subsequent backtracking) that they will allow developers to access users’ cell phone numbers and addresses. It’s all starting to feel a bit too close.
Social networks have no interest in protecting user privacy–in fact, tight privacy controls limit utility to both the user and to marketers. The closer social networks come to tracking and disclosing an individual’s location, and that individual’s movements and habits–the closer we come to having enough data to predict a person’s future movements–the fewer women will participate.