Sometimes when I read about a new software package or a new electronic device, I think “would I use that” and other times it is “how would I use that”. Today I admit I am just wondering how far social networking will end up taking us. I get Twitter and Facebook and am regularly excited about new social networking possibilities, both socially and professionally. But today I read an article about Apple filing a patent for a system that would allow people in close proximity to “discover each other” via social networking. Which is a compelling thought on one hand, but leaves me envisioning handshakes abandoned and people gathered in a room together chatting on their iPhones and iPads. It’s extreme, I admit, and unlikely to ever come to be quite like that, but it did give me an interesting visual and sometimes I wonder if anyone else has these ideas too.
The article that caused me to ponder how far social networking will go, entitled “Apple files mobile social networking patent request”, gives a few details about the prospective patent. The title of the patent requested is “Group Formation Using Anonymous Broadcast Information” and it gives a description of a system of token exchanges that allows mobile devices that are within a certain range to discover each other and form a group. Apple suggests that these groups could facilitate “at events like concerts, conferences, meetings, rallies and weddings.”
A more complete explanation of Apple’s intent with this patent is that “User interfaces, filters and search engines can be provided to the users to enable users to search and manage groups. The groups can be used with various applications—e.g., calendars, address books, e-mail, instant messaging — to provide additional content and services to the users. If the geographic location of the group at the contact time is known, then members of the group can be targeted to receive location-based services (LBS) and content.”
While my first reaction is an image of extreme isolation in a crowd, as I think about shopping situations, I can see some extremely beneficial uses to a location-based group. Say, like me, you are an avid reader. At some point, you’ll walk into a new bookstore. If you are the owner of the bookstore and know about mobile groups, you can have a group set up for your store, which lists the sales of the week, future book signings and appearances, and even potentially a catalogue of your inventory. As a customer, I can walk into this new store, join the group, and then have a variety of information at my fingertips. It’s a win-win situation for both people in that group: the bookstore sells books by providing me with easy information.
Certainly, using these tools for the benefit of your business will take some thinking and creativity, but if Apple and other social networking sites are finding a market for them, surely we can put them to good use in the business world too.