The evolution of social networking from online to off

Apple’s recent patent application for making gym workouts a social networking activity was notable as a sign of the continuing evolution of social networking away from computers, and into what we typically think about as our off-line lives. It demonstrates how social activity if returning to its offline roots, transitioning from a technology-centered activity to become more deeply integrated in our daily lives.

Facebook, as the largest social network, provides a useful case study. Socializing on Facebook was initially restricted to activities conducted on their website, Activity was initially limited to the activities established by Facebook’s programmers, allowing you to update your status, and post comments and photos.

The site’s reach was then significantly expanded as they allowed outside developers to create games that people could play within the confines of, such as mega-hit Farmville. Then in early 2010, Facebook made a change that let it go “viral”:  the like button. No longer were you limited in being able to use facebook on just their site, now every website on the internet became a potentially social venue.

The like button is allows a limited set of activities, allowing users to “like” or “recommend” individual pages on the web. Options for engagement expanded exponentially once websites gained the ability to automatically populate your facebook feed with activities conducted on their sites and software. Today, without any action by users, we alert our friends to  articles we read on the Washington Post, the music we listen to on Spotify, with an every-growing portion of our online activities becoming a part of our social feed.

Apple’s patent application for making workouts more social gym heralds the next phase in social networking’s expansion, as social networking moves offline. Your daily record of bench presses could potentially be added to your online persona without any action on your part, allowing for people to easily compete among their Facebook friends to see who works out the most frequently. No longer will you be required to use a computer or smartphone to engage in social networking activities, but instead it will become part of our everyday offline lives.

Vail implemented something similar,  allowing visitors to post trails they’ve skii’ed, vertical feet skied, and other “special accomplishments.” Those stats are then posted to visitors’ facebook feed and you can see your friends skiing accomplishments on their app. They also recently announced that they’ll be taking photos on the mountain which can easily be shared on Facebook.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine where the progression will go next. 10 years from now, what part of our lives won’t be integrated into the social graph? Collaborative consumption could fully take off. Purchases could be added automatically at the Point of Sale, allowing for an evolution of the review (Yelp), deal (Groupon), & customer loyalty (Punch’D) paradigms. Visits to the doctor could be added in, eventually allowing you to see what ailments are common in your family.

What opportunities can you imagine will be come possible with the transition of social networking into an activity more centered in real life?

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