Here are some concept designs that myself and ace designer Philip Langley put our heads together to create. It’s an investigation into how social networking may work in the future, focusing on mobile and augmented reality (AR).

Our investigations were inspired in particular by these brilliant (AR) concept drawings which I often use in presentations I give. There are some crude, but fascinating, implementations around too that inspired us.

After some brainstorming and quite a few mockups, we came up with the below. Admittedly AR is the new hype. But you can see how valuable (and scary) this could be when applied to a social networking paradigm. It assumes amazing resolutions, facial and object recognition, and more accurate GPS — none of these far off.

(NOTE: I’ve had quite a few requests regarding useage rights of these images. You’re welcome to use them in any form, so long as you credit and link back where feasible!)


[ Larger image (95k) | Hi Res image (8mb) ] Imagine holding up your phone or other digital device against a person you’ve just met or passing by. You’d instantly have information returned about that person within seconds, gleaned from an automatic web, public profile and social network search. You’d discover common friends, talking points — and then have the ability to add him/her to your network. Using a semantic scan, you’d discover negative or positive comments on Google or elsewhere relating to this individual. (Don’t mention that job at Microsoft or that time in Europe!) It would be instant insight into the guy standing right in front of you.


[ Larger image (86k) | Hi Res image (7mb)] Tapping into public databases and directories, discover who lives where and if and how you are connected — then call them, email them, add them to your network right then and there. Get other news about the suburb and other socio-economic information. If they’re part of your network — what are they saying about their suburb or the best pizza joint in the area?


[ Larger image (102k) | Hi Res image (6mb) ] You’d be able to hold up your phone in a crowded room and work out who is connected to who. You could instantly gauge your primary and secondary networks and work out instantly who you should chat to, what the conversation points are — and who you should avoid. Where are the cliques. Whose an outsider? What’s the buzz. We’ll never forget a name again.

Goodbye to privacy
Privacy is already an issue of concern now and for our digital future. We’re still working out the ethical and moral framework around this. We may even see a backlash from society angry at this intrusion.

It may however end up being ok because you will (mostly) be in control — you could refuse access to SN’s, don’t tweet, assume personas etc. But there will be information about you that you won’t be able to control too. There’ll be inevitable abuse and misuse of the information, which is probably manageable.

However more importantly — from a privacy perspective almost everyone will be mostly in the same boat. We may evolve into a society that’s highly transparent and accountable. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry.*

* UPDATE: @pluronymous in the comments below correctly pointed out that there’s more to this. I’m often (rightly) accused of neglecting the dystopian view. It may very well be too idealistic to suggest that a loss of privacy as a result of the web and the social networking revolution would be ok because it would mean we’d evolve into a “transparent” and “accountable” society. While persuasive, this may be idealistic. We could also in turn become a paranoid and distrustful society, always worrying about what our friends and neighbours will find out about us from a web or social network search.

I do think it’s comforting that: 1) to some extent you’re in control by limiting your profile information on most networks and failing that the “delete” button looms large; and 2) everyone will mostly be in the same boat. But then again there’s always going to be information outside our control…

58 Responses to “The future of social networking – a concept investigation with Augmented Reality”
  1. […] Matthew Buckland from South Africa, head of 20FourLabs.com, delivered a striking and brilliant presentation about the Future Of Social Networking. He outlines how information about people, objects and […]

  2. A shiver going down my neck… Scary vision but closer to reality than most people in the world can imagine. Let’s hope that there are enough barriers and secure features which can make us invisible again in some years. Good post though…

  3. Very cool article! Scary, but cool! Thanks

  4. I wonder what the impact will be on human physiology,neurological development, dependency on virtual platforms to do the ‘heavy lifting’ when it comes to using/developing memory. Issues of privacy aside, I think we are talking about something that literally will change the face of humanity, the way we grow into who we are. Therein lies the potential for abuse. Propaganda at a level undreamed of etc…

  5. This so cool…I can’t wait for it the future of social networking :)

  6. Excellent drawings.

    It is amazing the “privacy” knee-jerk you get with this.. whereas people will put everything on Facebook and Twitter.

    And as Antao Almada says – its just a new interface to the information that is already out there.

  7. @Yishay you’re welcome to use. just credit.

  8. genius. whatever your views on privacy, AR, social nets, these images bring home the possibilities / risks. Most of this is doable with current technology, which means it is important to expose these images and open up the debate before we get led by technology into a future we didn’t choose. What’s the licence on these? can I use them?

  9. […] Read the original post here […]

  10. […] un ejercio espectacular de diseño conceptual, se ha conseguido imaginar una tecnología que mezcla las redes sociales, el futuro de los ordenadores móviles para crear una especie de realidad aumentada muy […]

  11. […] un ejercio espectacular de diseño conceptual, se ha conseguido imaginar una tecnología que mezcla las redes sociales, el futuro de los ordenadores móviles para crear una especie de realidad aumentada muy […]

  12. oh wow this is dumb, just a new way for serial killers to find u hmm the future is a start to a new ending

  13. @pluronymous — I think that’s well said. I’m often (rightly) accused of neglecting the dystopian view. It may very well be too idealistic to suggest that a loss of privacy as a result of the web and the social networking revolution would be ok because it would mean we’d evolve into a “transparent” and “accountable” society. While persuasive, this may be too idealistic. We could also in turn become a paranoid and distrustful society too, always worrying about what our friends and neighbours will find out about us from a web or social network search.

    It’s comforting to think that: 1) to some extent you’re in control by limiting your profile information on most networks and failing that the “delete” button looms large; and 2) everyone will mostly be in the same boat.

    But yes, it’s very problematic and we have yet to work out the framework on how to deal with this. A business opportunity for the future?

  14. Social networking and the future…

    Matt has put together a few designs to showcase what he feels the future of social networking is going to be like..

    I’m really impressed – I’ve been using social media before it was even called social media and that coupled with my…

  15. Future is now, the first AR you mentioned can be done with two cell phones to exchange digital business cards at http://www.mynameise.com

  16. The privacy issue shouldn’t be brushed off so lightly. One of the advantages of privacy is being able to put your past behind you as you grow older. Some things you really do want to forget (that person you took advantage of in a drunken daze), some you once bragged about but now cause you shame (the drugs you once took, the guy you beat up), some things that you don’t want to have to keep defending (the landlord who screwed you so you left without paying the last month’s rent)… the list is endless. When you’re young, this might seem inconsequential, but the list of such things never grows shorter as you grow older. There’s a great deal of comfort in privacy, and a great deal of potential trauma in its absence. The notion of never being able to get past your own mistakes (let alone injustices against you) is deeply worrying, and deserves more than being glossed over with “oh, we’ll sort it out” or “we’re all in the same boat”.

  17. […] Whose an outsider? What’s the buzz. We’ll never forget a name again. Imágenes y píe de matthewbuckland.com […]

  18. […] Zona de Desarrollo Próximo, la capacidad de expresarnos de forma visual, cuando encontraba un post que inspiraba este: Hemos hablado de Construcción colaborativa de la realidad aumentada (o la web […]

  19. […] Zona de Desarrollo Próximo, la capacidad de expresarnos de forma visual, cuando encontraba un post que inspiraba este: Hemos hablado de Construcción colaborativa de la realidad aumentada (o la web […]

  20. […] Zona de Desarrollo Próximo, la capacidad de expresarnos de forma visual, cuando econtraba un post que inspiraba […]

  21. Le future du social networking (Anglais)…

    L’application de la réalité augmentée……

  22. […] great pictures that Matthew Buckland and Philip Langley created show how it could work and, although more likely to put most people in a blind panic, show […]

  23. concept investigation: The future of social networking…

    Il futuro immaginato dal giornalista Matthew Buckland in questo interessante articolo, potrebbe essere piuttosto vicino. Il device concettualizzato dal grafico Philip Langley è una naturale evoluzione di tecnologie già esistenti, il cui sviluppo è……

  24. Great ideas.. U have presented it quite well

  25. Thanks for this post!

    Best wishes
    Jörg

  26. Great explorations, and I love the designs too. Well done Matt and Phil!

  27. Links des Tages…

    Die letzten Tage nicht dazu gekommen, aber fleißig gesammelt:

    Nichts für schwache Nerven: Bundesinnenministerium plant hochgerüsteten Sicherheitstaat
    The future of social networking – a concept investigation – das erinnert mich an »Down and Out in th…

  28. Wow If this is the future of Social Networking , then i am eagerly waiting for it :)

    seems a nice concept and totally futuristic :)

    Hope some other useful services like online banking were also introduced wud be more fun 😀

  29. I’ve got some augmented products on my google phone and there pretty fun.

    I think on a personal business level things like this could be very useful, but as a commercial product i think its a bad thing.

    we still have not come to a conclusion in society where technology and ethics have equal weighting.

    i think we’re already too predisposed too ideas about people before we know them.

  30. scary stuff. It does occur to me that it could lead to a public accountability that might be beneficial. It would be great to be able to give you piece of hour mind to that CEO of enron who happened tone sitting opposite to you on the bus.

  31. I think you need to get yourself a copy of Ben Elton’s Blind Faith for the holidays…

  32. Great list, we believe the hype and want to be at the forefront. Check out our list of AR Apps:

    http://bit.ly/2WJ46z

  33. The future of social networking – a concept investigation – matthewbuckland…

    Here are some concept designs that myself and ace designer Philip Langley put our heads together to create. It’s an investigation into how social networking may work in the future, focusing on mobile and augmented reality (AR)….

  34. philbuk,

    Agreed, the realisation is charming which means it can bring the debate to a wider audience. I think with the amount of talent Matt and Phil seem to have they could do something richer that would engage a wider audience at the same time as bringing some fresh questions to the table.

  35. There is one social/human-centred question that strikes me (one of the many that tomwm is alluding to):

    ***Holding up a camera and taking a photo of a complete stranger is a social taboo.***

    That fundamental issue about the way we behave, coupled with the fact that all the types of info shown here is already available about people today, means the the privacy impact is likely to be quite minimal, I reckon. If people can span photos of you in secret, then sure, they have a better chance of identifying who you are. But lurking in corners with cameras is antisocial behaviour and most people won’t do it.

    Sure the ideas are not new, tomwm. But seeing them drawn up as charmingly as this is still a great focal point for some debate. It brings the subject alive for a whole new bunch of people. Made me realise the above issue. So thanks, Matt and Phil.

  36. Nice ideas, but nothing new. Still the same paradigm of layering and mashing up information to somehow bring new meaning to human interaction. The thing about this way of thinking is that it is technology driven (the device) and not story driven (the people). The scenarios are basic, underwhelming and not that compelling. They dont seem to address any of the darker issues around privacy that others have mentioned. When we design or speculate on future behaviours we need to remember we are human , embrace this and articulate it in our proposals.

  37. A few years ago a bunch of people at MIT were experimenting with AR spectacles, and I always thought it would be cool to be able to use facial recognition software to make sure you never forget anyone’s name, affiliation, etc at a networking event again. The addition of the social networking layer makes oceans of difference, though, and I share the concerns about privacy. Yes, there are access controls — but very, very few of us (none of us?) are skilled at using them in the knowledge that every bit of information we put out there will be aggregated with every other bit of information.

    I see three dangers in addition to the ones already raised:

    1. Adding all this information could exacerbate some human weaknesses, not compensate for them. At the moment, we at least sometimes realise that our snap judgements could be wrong. But if we have more information at our disposal to base those snap judgements on, we may rate them as more reliable — when in fact they’re anything but. The more information is out there, the more we are likely to see patterns that make perfect sense but are just plain wrong (it’s called false pattern recognition or apophenia. Who wants to be on the receiving end of that?

    2. Things change. What’s ok now might not be in 5 or 10 year’s time.

    3. If some people choose, for all the reasons above, to keep much of their information private, how long will it be before that very wish for privacy starts to look suspicious?

    The “if you have nothing to hide there’s nothing to be afraid of” line is dangerously naive. There are lots of Cardinal Richelieus out there: “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”

  38. C’mon, hardly all that exciting.

    HUDs have been fairly commonplace in the military and video-gaming for yonks. It’s simply a matter of everyone else catching up.

  39. @Mondieu.. I wouldn’t be too sure about that. I had the opportunity to consult with an Asset Tracking startup recently and the stuff I’ve seen still coming in RFID is fascinatingly frightening..

    then there’s the possibility of Bluetooth 2.0.. with wider radiuses.. free video messaging.. querying whether Pick’nPay actually has Albany bread in stock before u even set foot in there.. etc.. etc..

  40. You have to have a level of ORM control, which is the case with Google.

    I would prefer that when the device is held up against me, some sort of database has to be queried and permission granted before my vitals are splashed all over the stranger’s screen..

    The technology is crazy intriguing and I no doubt will probably make us of it myself – for business. But this WILL open doors (ala MXIT) that should remain shut…

    I cannot begin to imagine someone stalking my kids just because they know via an AR device that queried a string of tweets that my daughters go to ballet practise every Thursday and.. like I said.. scary..

  41. This wouldn’t be possible with human beings, unless they voluntarily embedded a chip in themselves somewhere. Further, houses in your example above would require something transmitting who they are – presumably their mobiles? The apple example showing the makeup of the fruit is again impossible because the phone has no way of reading the fruit.

  42. @Arthur – Everyone who I’ve shown these to have been a little freaked out about the privacy issues. Facebook currently allows you to select exactly what you share with whom. This AR design would work the same way – you would only allow strangers to see a few selected infonuggets, or none at all. The Googling of your name is the same as currently exists – you can’t stop people doing that. You can however control the Facebook aspect.

  43. I can actually see this happening, and it’s very exciting!

  44. This is scary.
    Social Networking hinges strongly on you controlling what you put out there and who gets to access it.

    This stuff is control-jacking taken to the extreme.

    While it’s probably pretty nifty for recruitment and JV research, I will not be comfortable with anybody firstly being able to just snap my mug without my consent.. and then that shot of me giving them (anybody and their mother) access to who I am.. what I eat.. my favourite “position”.. and all.. and all..

    Fortunately you guys are merely pulling a Clem Sunter/Chantal Ilbury here.. phew !!

  45. This is both thrilling and terrifying!

  46. Awesome post. lol at laughing or crying… true about the privacy and the future!

  47. As usual, any new technology brings privacy concerns. The article is interesting but a bit misleading. Augmented reality is just a type of interfacing. You can do everything mentioned without the use of AR. For example, the real estate app, it can be done on an iPhone with the Google Maps service, with the exact same information displayed on the pins.
    The privacy issues are on the available data and not how it is displayed. Blame it on mashable social networks and people putting there their own private data… 😉
    Nice concepts…

  48. Brilliant Matt!

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