In the 1990s, digital was all about browsing. The following decade brought search engines, and today we talk a lot about connecting online. Facebook connects us to people from our past and those we meet in the present. We can follow anyone and everything on Twitter, and now we can use social technology to create a spontaneous connection to people around us with similar interests.
This latest evolution in digital is called ‘social discovery’, and was the hot topic at this year’s SXSW festival. Social discovery brands such as Highlight, Kismet, Sonar and Ban.Jo are GPS-enabled apps that allow users to learn more about others in their vicinity.
There are several interesting developments here. To date, many of us have put a huge amount of effort into connecting and expanding our social network online. Social Discovery changes this dynamic, encouraging users to emerge from the comfort of the digital world into the real one. It’s great news for brands, as roughly 90% of all money is still being spent in the real world.
Second, social discovery apps leverage our interests rather than our existing networks to spark a connection. Using information on our personal interests, these apps “passively monitor” the space around us, searching for people we should meet. Paul Davison, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Highlight explains his inspiration:
“What if you just sort of had this bird’s eye view of the world? [You could] play God and take two people and put them together… [We] love the ambient intimacy we get from looking into other people’s lives.”
I believe that in the pre-digital dark ages, this intimacy was often a result of being in the right place at the right time: an act of serendipity brought to us by fate. My first reaction is to ask: where’s the romance? What is serendipity without its unpredictability? As we continue to share more and more personal moments online, I’m forced to wonder: are we losing out on real connections?
One thing is for sure: a fundamental shift is taking place in the way all of us are connecting as people. We are exploring and hunting for more meaningful connections, which leaves me feeling optimistic about the future. After all, all of this creates an incredible opportunity for brands to create more meaningful connections with consumers – and perhaps even be there for the moment when sparks fly!