Friday, August 27, 2010

Here Come the Blobs!

Now that iPhones and Androids have catalyzed a vibrant ecosystem of services that allow you to check in to places like Starbucks, doesn’t it seem likely that a next logical step will be the ability to check in to people?  Such a feature would be the social equivalent of gravity, incentivizing people to form and maintain proximity clusters or blobs.  

I’ve already seen a version of this feature in the wild - in RL!  Way back when I was a kid spending summers at Latvian Camp we’d often play a game called Blob, essentially group tag.  Each iteration would start with one person designated as “it”.  Their goal then was to capture additional people, each time adding them to the ever growing blob.  The game would end with a large swarm of kids spreading out the blob in a line to trap the final speedy kid in a corner of the playing field.  

Now imagine an app called Blob, loosley based on the same principles.  The app would reward people for 1) checking in to other friends’ cell phones, 2) remaining in proximity, and 3) growing the blob.  Thus clusters of people would earn points, just like Foursquare or Gowalla, for forming groups (much like atoms form molecules), maintaining density, and increasing the size of the blob.  For many early adopters this behavior would be fun in and of itself.  For normals it’d become more enjoyable as 1) the incentives increased, 2) other apps/games were developed for blob (the Party Version, the Gym Class version, the Flash Mob version), and 3) the functionality was mixed with other potent services like Groupon (imagine that you and your blob could get 10% off coffee for checking your group in at Starbucks).  

Like location check-ins, the concept is such a no-brainer next step that I’ve gotta believe companies like Facebook, Foursquare and Yelp are developing it or something similar right now.  Facebook Places already allows people to check in their friends to locations (a logical first step for grouping) and mapping crowd-sourcer Waze recently announced a groups feature that allows people to caravan together on trips.  The next obvious move is to establish game incentives for group formation, which will then enable a whole mess of emergent behavior, services, games and next-level complexity.

My bet is that over the next 6 months we’ll see more than a few established geosocial players releasing grouping features or discrete apps.  They may call it Social Gravity, or Molecule, or Grouply, or ClusterFu*k, or maybe even Social Node.  But let it be known, the Latvian Camp kids would prefer they call it Blob.

Image by Zach Armstrong

About Alvis Brigis

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Alvis Brigis is a media specialist and futurist residing in California. Most recently, he was Story Producer on History Channel’s Invention USA and Executive Producer for The Future of Facebook, the first Open Foresight project to be funded and released to the public. He’s produced and written for TV networks including NBC, VH1, THC and Sundance Channel. Brigis co-founded Future Scanner (a prediction harvesting tool), Swarmado (a mobile content-sharing app for events) and has developed a variety of forward-looking startups. He serves on the advisory board of Acceleration Studies Foundation and blogs about the social side of accelerating change at Social Node. He’s also an avid sci-fi, comedy and quest adventure writer + co-creator of animated silicon valley satire Steve Ice.