Social networking has come a long way over the lifetime of the Internet. Remember BBS and IRC? As a means of interaction, they were the start of social. Over time people grew to adopt more of an online identity, and forums and blogs came about. From there sites like LinkedIn and MySpace grew to accommodate the desire to interact more, and now we have Facebook.
What’s the future of social networking then?
Facebook continues to grow, but alternatives are cropping up. The desire for niche, ad hoc, and private networks are driving growth with apps like Glassboard, Path, and EveryMe. This shift reminds me of when Twitter was introduced and the whole concept of microblogging. It was fun to give it a whirl, but what was the real purpose of composing 140 character messages for the world to read? It took some time, but people began to realize that Twitter was a natural evolution from blogging.
I’d like to think of Glassboard as kind of the same thing: as people are drawn away from their giant social network on Facebook, they realize that small social groups within Glassboard just makes more sense now.
We were first alerted to Glassboard’s utility in the classroom when I had a conversation with Micah Humphrey’s, college professor. He used the app with his Agroecology (soil and crop science) class to take attendance and make announcements, among other things.
Now we’re seeing more educators making it clear that Glassboard is a great tool for teaching. This history blog touts Glassboard as useful for small groups of students to have discussions and study together. This teacher is using Glassboard as a means to gather feedback from students for an assignment.
There are a few reasons, as I see it, that are driving this education-focused adoption of Glassboard:
1. The privacy aspect.
Glassboard in inherently private and always has been. For educators and parents, this is a critical feature for keeping students safe and focused.
2. Glassboard isn’t just another social network, it’s a resource so teams can get things done more effectively.
Can you think of many students who would want to friend their teachers on Facebook? I sure can’t. Since Glassboard is so easy to sign up for, teachers can get their students on to a class board in a matter of minutes and the discussion can continue to take place outside of the other networks that everyone uses for social pursuits.
3. Educators, as chairperson of a board, are empowered as moderators.
Since a chairperson can control who has access to the board, as well as the ability to delete posts made by others, Glassboard is easily moderated by the teacher. Also, once a class or a project is complete they can choose to delete a board and start over fresh with a new crop of students.
4. Technology is infiltrating the classroom!
More and more, students are gaining access to iPads and other technologies to enhance learning. As this approach grows in popularity, so too will apps that enable learning. With Glassboard as a discussion tool in the classroom, students are better able to communicate with educators and their peers.
Our Android developer, Nick Bradbury, shares his thoughts on this trend:
“It’s definitely been a boost for both my kids (my daughter started at the same school this year). My kids are exposed to a *much* more visual way of learning, which I think is far better than the way I learned. Instead of staring at static text books, they’re able to learn from interactive examples. In class, teachers project their iPads onto a SmartBoard, which enables them to display online video without the hassle of the projectors we grew up with. Most of their assignments are completed and submitted on their iPads.
They’re using Pages, iMovie and similar apps to create documents and multimedia presentations that are easily shared with other classmates. Some of these projects are team-based, but quite often they don’t need to get together to complete their work – they just do it online from home. One of the coolest things was my son’s Spanish class, where the teacher had “tagged” dozens of objects around the room. The kids aimed their iPhone cameras at the objects, and the Spanish name of the objects appeared on-screen (aim it at a chair, and see the Spanish word for chair).”
Viva la silla!
Photo sharing is essential for any social network to thrive. Facebook apparently has 90 billion total photos. 90 BILLION!
Why is that?
Simply put, our lives are told with pictures now. We can summarize our daily activities within the constrains of 160 characters, we can blog or post to Facebook, or we can share photographs.
Which is why social networks want to highlight photo sharing as a prominent feature. It’s the easiest way to tell stories, to share our thoughts and current events, and to engage people we know. Not only that, but with things like filters, tagging, and adding location, photo sharing has become streamlined and a lot more fun.
From the most mundane activities, like what you ate for dinner,
or pictures of your pup
to something spectacular that you’d like to share,
to something tender,
to something silly.
It’s not even a matter of saving these moments for later. Photo sharing has changed the way we experience events as they occur. It’s become very common that for every holiday, every concert, and every meal, people are constantly whipping out their phones to carefully document all that goes on in their lives. Which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing, it’s simply another way social networking has impacted our lives.
One of the things I like using our blog for is to address any concerns or questions people have and to set the record straight. A question I’ve seen quite a bit, both via Tweets addressed to us and our support channel, is “Why can’t I find people on Glassboard?”
First of all, I understand why people would want this feature. You join Glassboard, but where are all your friends? It’s what people have come to expect in social networking. It represents a shift in our culture because of Facebook, the expectation that you should be able to find anyone (and anyone can find you!) as long as you know minute details about them.
There are certain features of other social networks, like this element of discovery, that we as a team mulled over but eventually came to the conclusion that it simply does not jive with our approach to privacy in Glassboard.
This reminds me of all the Luddites in my life. My sister, a handful of my best friends, and my parents all do not have access to smart phones. If I need to reach them, I must know their phone number or email address. When we created Glassboard we intended for people to use the app with other people they knew well enough to have their contact information. Unfortunately this means you won’t be able to look up your high school sweetheart unless you’ve stayed in touch!
Recently there has been a flurry of press that acknowledges niche social networks. More and more there is a need to distill down your social network into smaller, more manageable groups. This weekend I caught this back-and-forth on Twitter. See? These folks get it! (the Business Insider article is here)
Niche social networks are all about what flavors you like as an individual, whether it’s a group of like-minded colleagues or your bowling team. With giant social networks like Facebook it’s not easy to distinguish your unique areas of expertise from all the noise and advertisements.
This is one of the reasons we are always asking our users about what they’ve come up with to use Glassboard for (we don’t mine your data so we wouldn’t be able to tell). Every week I hear a new story about someone using Glassboard in a way we never imagined when we were designing it. Who knew gamers and college professors would find that Glassboard was perfect for their niche? What else do you use Glassboard for?
Jenny’s previous post on using Glassboard at conferences got me thinking about a recent trend that we’re seeing, that new social networks like ours are helping to foster. The trend is described as ‘shared experiences’ and it represents the benefits you get from mutual participation, and how the dynamics of an event can change once others are involved. This isn’t a new concept, but the ways and means by which people are creating shared experiences is becoming more common as services like Glassboard make it easier to communicate and coordinate groups of people.
A great example of a shared experience can be seen through the antics of Improv Everywhere; the people who brought you “Frozen Grand Central” or “No Pants Subway Rides“. Charlie Todd organizes massive groups of people to perform really outlandish activities, and each of these ‘missions’ is truly unique and special. One of the goals for these projects is to “give people a story they can tell for the rest of their lives”, and in many cases Charlie’s done just that, both for the knowing and unknowing participants. Charlie has discovered a multiplier effect that comes about when you put large groups of people in uncommon situations. The magnitude of the experience is amplified by the number of people involved and it creates an event that is larger than the sum of the parts. If Charlie was to stand frozen in Grand Central all by himself it would not have nearly the same impact.
Another great example of the power of a shared experience can be seen in Derek Sivers analysis of “Leadership lessons from Dancing Guy”. If you haven’t seen this video, take three minutes and watch it. In a TED talk from 2010, Derek dissects the process of creating a movement through the example of a guy dancing at a music festival. Derek’s points talk about leadership and the birth of a movement, but what we also see is the transformation of an experience – from a single, odd guy dancing by himself to a massive group of people celebrating the moment. Its wonderful.
But shared experiences aren’t just limited to car alarm symphonies or flashmobs. People can come together for a variety of reasons and benefit from shared experiences, as seen by the Polymath Project and other programs designed to engage smart people from all over to solve extremely complex problems. For others, shared experiences can come from the simplest of situations: conferences, classes, or even family reunions. In these situations, you don’t always need to get everyone to sing the pythagorean theorem a capella to make it special, all you need is to engage people and lead them to a common outcome, be it collaborative note taking in a training seminar, or organizing the after-after party at a conference. Either way, you never know when creating your own shared experiences will “give you stories that you can tell for the rest of your life”.
Propinquity is all about proximity. Simply put, you have a greater tendency to build a relationship with those that you are physically or psychologically near.
How does this pertain to Glassboard? Because with the rise of small social networks, there is a greater acknowledgment of meaningful online relationships. When interacting with a group (or ‘board’ as we call it) on Glassboard, it’s a virtual representation of a meeting taking place in a boardroom. With closed doors and comfy chairs. And cookies.
This sort of encapsulation within the app is a quality that enables propinquity. Glassboard acts as a tool not just for collaboration but also as a means of enriching your relationship with coworkers, clients, and customers.
Large social networks like Facebook, on the other hand, are focused on broadcasting things about your life (sometimes passively, without real interaction on your part). As social networks grow smaller the conversations are more dedicated to shared goals and interests, like scouting a venue for an event or providing feedback on a document. Relationships are built around two-way communication, not by shouting things into an abyss.
Ian Fleming is the one who originally stated “nothing propinks like propinquity.” You may have heard of him. This line was then adopted by George Ball, an American diplomat. He used the line to refer to the fact that the more direct access you have to the president of the United States, the greater your power, no matter what your title actually is.
Having direct access to those you care most about reaching makes Glassboard empowering.
Could 2012 be the year private sharing networks come of age? This is what Eric Eldon asks in this piece on TechCrunch. With more and more people shunning Facebook because of their lackadaisical approach to privacy and their focus on targeting ads to you, it could happen. We very well may be witnessing the end of Web 2.0 and the beginning of the era of Mobile.
Your social networks in the palm of your hand
We wanted to focus on a great mobile experience when we created Glassboard. This is the same approach other small social networks are taking, like Pair and Path. Mobile could be Facebook’s downfall. The Facebook mobile experience is clunky. People want something streamlined and simple when they are on their phones, which is what we strive for in our app. Facebook may never be able to master the mobile experience because it’s too big, you have too many different groups of friends/family/colleagues on it and there are too many features. A gigantic social network doesn’t lend itself to mobile, the space is simply better occupied by apps like Glassboard and Path.
Too many social networks? What, like in real life?
There is some resistance to small social networks, and it’s keeping people attached to Facebook. It’s a common complaint that I’ve read in comments on blog posts about social networks. People fear that there are too many social networks that you have to participate in, that you’ll have accounts all over the place. So? Isn’t that how things are in real life? If Pair is for the bedroom and Path is for rec room, think of Glassboard as the boardroom. The most stand out use case for Glassboard is how we’ve used it as a company from the very beginning. It has provided a simple and private way for us as a group to communicate, and it is refreshingly separate from the other means of communication we use for our friends and loved ones.
I really liked that this NYTimes article references Dunbar’s number (also referred to as the Monkeysphere) in its comparison of various social networks. Randall Stross acknowledges that social networks are growing smaller, which isn’t such a bad thing. Smaller social networks are more inline with how many relationships we are able to maintain: “Mr. Dunbar told him that social networks resemble a set of concentric circles: 150 people constitute the outer boundary of friends, 50 is the limit for trusted friends, 15 for good friends, and 5 for best friends.”
In the context of all of my social networks, my Monkeysphere looks like this:
Glassboard is the perfect social network for my two smallest spheres. Facebook is appropriate for people who I would recognize in passing, and Twitter is the broadcaster social network where everything I post is sent out into the ether of the Internet.
Why does social networking in the digital age work outside the Dunbar number? It’s simply not sustainable if your goal is to maintain meaningful relationships. This is why people are beginning to be drawn to more intimate social media connections, such as those enabled by Glassboard.
When you hear the term “social network,” I imagine that the first things that come to mind are Facebook and Google+. Now think of your actual social network, the people you interact with in real life. It likely doesn’t look much like Facebook and Google+, which have opened the doors to friends of friends, casual acquaintances, and people you’ve met maybe once or twice (or not at all!).
Social networks like Glassboard, and now Path and Pair, are usually mentioned with a qualifier like “small” or “simple.” Why? Being social implies interaction, right? If so, we’re more social than the big guys because we’re a better reflection of reality. If I stand on a street corner screaming about what I had for lunch, is that social? (I had a delicious homemade andouille shrimp cake btw) So why is it considered social if I do it on Facebook?
Since there is obviously a dramatic difference in the reach of all these social networks, we can classify each of them as one of two different kinds: The Broadcasters and The Interacters. There is a litmus test I’ve come up with to discover what kind of social network you’re on. If you post something, can you identify everyone who will see it by name and how you know them?
1. The Broadcasters
Twitter is the best example of a broadcasting network. But anymore Facebook and Google+ are a forum for spraying people with pictures and information. If you answer the above question with, “Uhhhhmm….” then you’re on a Broadcaster!
- One giant group of businesses and individuals
- Ad-supported business model
- Both your grandma and some dude you met through your college roommate all see the same stuff
- Disconnected from reality
- Driven by narcissm
- Tons of privacy options that require due diligence in maintaining
2. The Interacters (Glassboard, Pair, FamilyLeaf, and Path)
- Small, select groups with 2-way communication
- Business model: Not sure about the other guys, but ours is explained here
- You can actually see the individuals who will see what you post
- Closer reflection to reality, since it’s people you know in real life
- Driven by desire to interact and collaborate in meaningful ways
- Private by default
Since there are so many social networks cropping up, I hope this helps you make a distinction. We want you to choose Glassboard because you value interaction over broadcasting.