Social media takes to the streets

The SoMo experience begins with tools like GPS that can identify where we are and where we are going in real time

Welcome to the era of SoMo.

Sure, online social media and social networking are popular, but they don't mimic the way we naturally interact. Why use Facebook or Twitter to tell friends what you are doing at the moment when you can directly show them what you are doing and where you are doing it?

This is where SoMo, or social mobile media, comes in.

The SoMo experience begins with tools like GPS that can identify where we are and where we are going in real time. GPS is further enhanced through the marking of actual physical locations -- geotagging. Geotagging can include everything from "soundprints" to video markers, and the tagging of locally relevant reviews and news. GeoGraffiti, for example, allows mobile phone users to record a message tied to a specific place that is later retrievable by anyone who finds themselves near the same location. Geotaggers can leave a virtual "Kilgore was here" tag at any place, freezing in time and making publicly available their location-specific activities, interactions and thoughts.

Mobile social networking is also coming on strong with applications like Foursquare and Britekite. Mobile phone users can discover each other, both friends and strangers, via profiles they make available at a particular location. Such applications are good for networking on the fly and immediately finding out if your friends are nearby at a given time.

Place-based news reporting is likewise growing in popularity. So-called mobile journalism, or " MoJo," is a growing field, allowing reporters to stream live video or file reports from the field instantly using a variety of mobile devices.

Not surprisingly, mobile social advertising is at the vanguard of SoMo developments. Localized applications allow businesses to advertise their goods or specials through alerts that are wirelessly beamed to consumers as they approach a store or restaurant. Consumers can opt out of such alerts, turn them off or ignore them. Privacy is still an issue, but as advertising and search continue to go local, we will see much more of this type of virtual hawking.

How we experience the real world will increasingly be augmented and enhanced through the screen of a mobile phone. New services like Layar are turning camera phones into digital browser search tools that layer useful information on top of real-time images. A picture of a street corner, for example, could reveal ratings and suggestions from locals on where to find an ATM machine or a good cup of coffee nearby.

Community and social service organizations will also start jumping onto the mobile bandwagon. Imagine walking by a library and having the ability to reserve a book, or signing up for a class at a local community center after receiving an alert when you drive by.

Some innovators are experimenting with the aggregation of movements in urban areas to identify hot spots of activity. Others are tracking and sharing up-to-the-moment reports on air quality and weather conditions via sensors built into mobile devices.

And for political organizers, the ability to rapidly organize, manage and disperse flashmobs using cell phones and even wearable devices has already signaled a new era of unprecedented street-based coordination. Of course, law enforcement will also begin leveraging mobile media to deter protest activities, and to coordinate rapid response activities to emergencies on the ground.

Finally, as next-generation sensor networks are built out using RFID chips and bar coding, devices will be able to talk directly to each other or to conveniently locate information for us on the spot. The ability to read bar codes with cell phones in a store, enabling price comparisons at the point of purchase, is an example.

Social media is literally on the move. While useful for anonymous and asynchronous communications, computer-based social media is rapidly becoming old school. In comparison, mobile social media is personal and dynamic -- and more closely tied to how people engage in the real world. SoMo not only provides us the freedom to meet each other where we are, it also gives computing a distinctly human face.

Paul Lamb is the principal of Man on a Mission Consulting. You can follow him on his Cool n' Conscientious blog or at plamb on Twitter.

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Paul Lamb

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