[Research] Rheingold about Mobile Social Presence

New piece of work by Howard Reingold on the feature on the very topic of geolocation, mobility and social presence.

"presence" means knowing where your buddies are by looking at your phone – an act that is complicated behind the scenes by the necessity of integrating user-controlled social network information (who you want to be available or invisible to), location information via GPS and/or other locative media, wireless data transport infrastructure and a user interface that makes subtle social decision making easy or at least possible on a small screen. When a few million 15-year-olds get their hands on such devices, expect the unexpected.

Considering the popularity of today's deskbound social-networking software, will tomorrow's mobile-presence enthusiasts want to know where their buddies' buddies' are? More likely,when social networking, mobile telephony and locative media collide on the small screen, something altogether surprising will emerge, the way virtual communities, online markets and self-organized dating services emerged from wired cyberspace. Right now, it's an easy bet that the ability to know where your buddies are will become a necessity for the unwired population – less certain is whether you will really want to know that the person standing in front of us in the elevator is a good friend of your good friend. Personal issues of privacy, social boundaries and vulnerability enter the picture when you use technologies to distinguish between the people you want to be available to and those you want to exclude.

He reviews two projects: pMatch at HP Labs (allows people within Bluetooth range to discover if they have the same preferences without revealing them to each other) and BuddySpace (a Java-based, open-source instant messenger that adds map overlays to the buddy list).

Nice comments also:

- What is clear from the last months' debate over social networking services (SNSs) is that the concept of "friend" has to become more fine-grained before this kind of service catches on. The question is what criteria to take into account (for friendship modelling). - The focus on who we know rather than what we are interested in strikes me as somewhat missing the point. All you end up with is meaningless lists of who is a friend of a friend of a friend etc. - The thing of greatest concern to me is what happens when you forget to stop broadcasting your location? I imagine this will happen frequently, and in many cases the information culled from such carelessness will be embarrassing, incriminating, or otherwise injurious in some way. - The final use of location/presence--the killer app--will remain unknown for some time, but I'm guessing that, in the early phases, the most successful presence apps will be *extremely* simple.