Geography, social media and breakfast
Combining social networks with geographic information was one of the big ideas at a gathering this week of uber-techies and media digirati in New York.
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NEW YORK (Fortune) -- The next big thing is the integration of location-based information with social networking applications. At least that's one conclusion I took from a high-energy "social media" breakfast for 100 techies in New York this week.
Not only will you see what someone is doing online, but you will know where they are doing it. That might significantly change how you relate to people in the real world.
The breakfast, which took over an entire mid-sized restaurant, was organized (using Facebook) by networker extraordinaire Jeff Pulver. The city's growing community of new media experts and practitioners came here from both bedrooms and giant corporations. The only agenda was exchanging business cards and ideas.
Like a surprising number of digirati, Pulver - a longtime Internet voice and video entrepreneur and evangelist - is devoted to getting to know people in the flesh. He thus cleverly attempted to bring online techniques to this real-world event. He spent the night before the breakfast stuffing plastic sandwich bags for each participant. Inside were nametag stickers, a bundle of post-it notes, and a sheet of tiny blank labels. (Here are what his bags looked like.)
Pulver explained to each arrival that they must put not only their name on the tag, but also a descriptive phrase. His said "I take having fun seriously." Someone nearby wrote "The master connector." Another guy (an old-media refugee) had tried one line, crossed it out, and then penned in big letters "I'm terrible at this." My own anguished attempts to be clever resulted in "Old media head in new media hat."
Pulver explained you should use the smaller stickers to "tag" or "poke" people. Shortly after I started duly interrogating bloggers and programmers as they munched on bacon and eggs, someone reached across and applied to my chest a sticker reading "reporter."
Pulver excitedly brought me over to meet an amazing guy named David Troy, who it turned out has 11,600 followers on Twitter. (That means they subscribe to and read the 140-character-or-less Twitter texts he sends out when he feels like it - some call it micro-blogging.)
Troy, who lives in Maryland, explained that he had become the most followed person on Twitter after inventing something called Twittervision. It's a mash-up of Twitter and Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) world map, and compulsively-watchable. Someone may remark on Twitter that they've just awakened in California. Another replies from Norway - you can see it happen. I saw someone twitter in Chinese from Ethiopia, followed by tweets from Netherlands and Chile.
Troy has built similar systems for Flickr (Flickrvision) and YouTube (Spinvision.tv). Watching them can quickly start giving you new thoughts about our common life with others on the planet. I would never have thought watching a bunch of Polish kids eat hamburgers would be so riveting.
"I'm looking for sponsorships for Spinvision.tv," he explained, "but the others are just for the fun and art of it." Twittervision in fact is so artful that alert curator Paola Antonelli included it in a great show that just opened at New York's Museum of Modern Art, called "Design and the Elastic Mind."
Troy is working to take the concept further - to combine postings from Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and other services in a single geographic interface. "I'm obsessed with creating an open geography platform for social networks," he effused. (The intrepid Pulver later that day did a video interview with Troy.)
Later I talked to Murat Aktihanoglu, who showed me his own nascent related service, called Unype.com. He describes it as a "location-based social application platform." Not merely entertainment, it is supposed to let you use Google maps to get things done with other people, as well as play games. Aktihanoglu says it will allow you to, among other things, in effect combine Craigslist with Google Earth. His motto: "Never be lonely again!" (It's pretty hard to use so far, though.)
Multi-media was another unavoidable breakfast theme. All around me people were pointing electronic gadgets at each other. Some used Nokia (NOK) cellphones to broadcast live video onto the Internet using the Qik service. Others were using conventional video cameras, still cameras and cameraphones. (Here are Pulver's own photos of the gathering, posted on Facebook.)
Pulver made his big score when he sold the VON (Voice on the Net) conference for a huge sum in 2001. (He later bought it back at a massive discount.) Altogether, he says he's been involved in starting over 50 companies, and is working actively on six at the moment.
To organize this event, another next week in Tel Aviv, and seven more coming up around the United States, all he does is create an event listing on Facebook. His Facebook News Feed automatically broadcasts the event's existence to his friends. When they sign up, it prompts their friends to do so as well, and so on. He capped the number in New York at 100 just for sanity. Anybody can sign up (though you need to be on Facebook).
"I'm a big fan of Facebook," said Pulver. (He has 4838 "friends" there.) He claims he uses it to set up all his meetings, and says that about half his business communications now take place there. The guy likes social media.
Geography is likely to get more important on the Net. And so will New York, if this meeting was any indication.
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