Sunday, August 12, 2012

5 Reasons Why Augmented Reality is the Future of Social

Social media is getting stale. While its true that Facebook, Twitter, and the also-rans keep us increasingly interconnected, they all follow the same paradigm and the novelty has worn off. The problem is that they provide a user experience that, while constantly connected and updating, is strangely disconnected from how we interact with the real world. The idea of scrolling through a chronological list of pictures and status updates representing real-world activity of our friends while we stare at a monitor or mobile device is frankly disjointed from reality and due for disruption. A more suitable approach would be an environment that is more naturally mapped to the real world and our experience in it. In other words, social media's probable disruption (or evolution) might very well be a collision with augmented reality (AR), a technology paradigm is that is specifically designed for seamless integration of the virtual and natural. If you're not convinced, here are a handful of specific reasons why AR may be the future of social media…

(Quick note #1: If you cringe at the idea of Facebook status messages popping up on your nerdy AR glasses while you're trying to walk down the street, don't worry, because I do too. That's not what this post is about. There are better design solutions, but that's a topic for another time.)

1. AR provides better context 
While today's social tools provide content in a flat list, tomorrow's augmented reality tools will take that list and disperse it across the real world. This will mean that pictures will be discoverable where they were taken and messages will appear with those that sent them or aligned with their subject. The result will be a bridged gap between today's isolated virtual world of social networking and the current physical world. The significance is that context enables completely new meaning and significance. Viewing a friend's photos of their trip to the Italian coast while you sit in your cubicle at work is fine, but discovering those photos while you walk the trails of Cinque Terre would be wild. 

2. AR is immediate 
The level of immediacy of Facebook and Twitter today depend upon how often you reach into your pocket and pull out your mobile device. With AR, the information is simply presented in real time. You can look across your college campus, city block, or office building and literally see the conversation taking place. The experience of sitting in a stadium or walking through a park will completely change as you see friend's messages simply appear as they are shared. 

3. AR enhances your memory
The way that AR would present information would be much closer to how we function naturally in the real world already. As you run into old friends or visit places you've been before, you likely recall the memories associated with them. Memory is contextual and spatial like this - it's distributed throughout the world, full of personal triggers that cue up times from the past. For instance, you may not remember the huge pickup football game you played at the park behind the school until you actually pass by the park behind the school. Of course, our memories are completely flawed, forgetting details or associating events with wrong times or places. AR will facilitate and enhance this natural behavior by automatically distributing cues to information and memories throughout the world. 

4. AR draws from the memories of others
In the early days of Facebook, the immediate present is all that mattered. Anything older was dumped into photo albums or buried behind page links. As the archive built up, so did the need for a better historical view - enter Facebook Timeline. As we continue to provide social content, our collective archives will not only grow in size but quality as well, containing as much high definition video and imagery as Likes and status updates. This rich collective archive of memories will become increasingly interesting, especially as the novelty of mundane status updates wears off (e.g. "I have a cold today…cough cough"). The social AR tool will ditch the idea of burying memories in the timelines of your friends' pages and instead bring the past forward into your current world. Ideas, thoughts, and memories will be scattered about, thus enhancing your present by drawing from the the past others. 

(Quick note #2: As this collective archive builds, expect the emergence of tools (both AR and non-AR) that will help us make better use of if, such as storytelling tools that weave experiences across people, communities, and events or visualization tools that enhance the understanding of the aggregate.)

5. AR encourages real-world social behavior 
The irony of today's social tools is that they promote anti-social behavior. The more we use them, we're interacting more in the virtual world and less in the actual world. AR encourages much different and integrated behavior. By integrating the virtual and the physical, today's walls break down and we're left with an enhanced version of real-world interaction. In the long term, this is better for us on the whole, encourages a world of real human interaction that is simply enhanced by technology, which is the way it is supposed to be. 


  1. This is a well-written post with some very interesting ideas that I could see being useful... for a small population of people.

    I am by no means an expert, so this is undeniably an opinion, but the majority of my friends would not want any of these things in their social media. For most of the people I know, the only context that is needed is the person. Speed and volume are what they value. They want to see everything posted to Facebook as soon as it's posted, regardless of context.

    While these people have every notification sent to their mobile phones, so that they know when something new has happened, they are still free to view them in bulk when they have the time. It might be in a few seconds, a few minutes, or a few hours. But that's their choice. They don't want or need some other unimportant cue to tell show it to them.

    Why do I want to see YOUR picture of the Statue of Liberty while I am standing in front of it? I would much rather see it from my cubicle at work to inspire me to book the trip to NY.

    Along the lines of your 4th point, just about the only use for AR that *I* can see for social media is for location-based services (like Four Square) and review services (like Yelp). It'd be kinda cool to be able to see that my friend I haven't seen in a long time is in the coffee shop I happen to be walking past. Or to know that my best friend hated the restaurant I am about to walk into.

    I think that context in the presentation social media could create some novel applications, but most of them would be AR for the sake of AR. There's a significantly smaller amount (again, in my opinion) of uses for AR in that space that would present added value.

    Just my 2-cents.

  2. Hey Chris -

    Great points and thanks for pushing back on some of this. I can't argue with the idea that AR won't be for everybody - especially if we're talking glasses. You are right that there will still be a case for the fire hose of status updates (and Statue of Liberty pictures) while you're stuck at work, and of course, I down-played that in the post.

    However, I still think it will be cool if you could ALSO easily pull those pictures up while you're at the Statue of Liberty. The tools could help pro-actively identify what you would probably be interested in seeing based on where you are or what you're doing. Consider the alternative of searching the timelines of everyone of your friends.

    Once you find those old pictures, you could start up conversations based on old content, which is something that doesn't really exist today but wouldn't be that strange to do. Picture passing by somebody's old apartment just randomly, being reminded of it by the app, and then commenting about something that went on there... pretty normal behavior.

    You're absolutely write about recommendations and reviews, which is probably the best application of AR because it's intended to help you out in the context of the world though the guidance of friends.

    good stuff..