Great Expectations for Social in 2016 & Beyond (Part 1)

A lot of people these days are calling the end of social media. They cite the noise factor (too many apps!) and the universal rule of the existing companies (Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter) as impediments to new approaches.

Blasphemy!, I say. The desire for human connection is timeless — and our quest for technology that brings us closer to one another, faster, more effectively and efficiently — will never wane. There’s been tremendous progress in communication technology throughout history — from smoke signals and the telegram, to snapchat and livestreaming. Hundreds of thousands of people have dedicated their life’s work to improving upon whatever was “good enough” before — and millions have adopted the next best thing, time and time again. (With or without putting up a good fight first).

These two underlying factors — one, that we will always seek to improve upon what we have, and two, that people will always be looking for something better, indicate that communication platforms will continue to morph and progress, fundamentally shaping the way we interact with one another in the meantime.

So — without further pontification, here are some of my ideas about where there’s opportunity for innovation in social and communication technology. I’ll release these in a three-part series: (1) Social Networks (Consumer & Enterprise), (2) Messaging (3) New & Fun Social Tech.

Social Networks: Consumer

  • Interest Groups 2.0: The diversity of the human interest graph is mind boggling, but there are surprisingly few places for people to find and interact with others who share their passions. DIYers are on Pinterest, Anime lovers on AminoApp, neighborhood watchdogs on Nextdoor, developers on Github, and a surprising number of people are still chatting in the forums on Craigslist. I like how Josh Elman harkened to the long lost days of AOL chat rooms. I wouldn’t be surprised if either a mega-application (like AOL 2.0) launches with all kinds of verticals included, or lots of verticalized apps in niche interest areas pop up. Some topics I think have particular potential include health (especially rare diseases), religion (e.g., Bible discussion), crafts/DIY (the most popular categories on Pinterest) and sports (Facebook’s new app may win here).
  • Meeting new people: As millennials (& others) move locations constantly in search of career and life opportunities, there will be a greater need for networks that help people find new friends. I’ve heard that Meetup is quite popular for people living abroad, and a new app Hey! Vina is aiming to be a tinder for female friends. Dating apps have exploded in the past few years — and the increased comfort with meeting strangers may transcend to friendships as well.
  • Digitizing social groups: Real world communities (e.g., book groups, non-profit boards, PTAs, club sports teams) need a way to interact outside of reply-all email chains. Google Groups and Facebook are often a default option as so many people use both platforms, but they lack the desired functionality — threaded chat, events, polls, push notifications, etc. A bunch of startups are going after this, but it’s hard to get people to join yet another app or group, and ultimately people default to the lowest common denominator: email. It’s noisy, laborious, and ultimately, frustrating.
  • Hanging out — online or IRL: There have been a number of attempts to let people indicate to their friends when they are around and free, but nothing has really stuck. Additionally, there are places that you can go see if your friends are available to chat (e.g., Google, Messenger), but no way to signal you’re available/seeking company. I imagine something online that’s akin to the neighborhood bar — a place to go with “book in hand” (green light on?) to indicate “hey let’s talk”.

Social Networks: Enterprise

  • Mobile apps for deskless workers: Slack and LinkedIn work well for white collar professionals, but simply don’t for many others. Uber/Lyft drivers are blowing up the conversation rooms on SherpaShare, and construction managers and workers are using Plangrid. Doctors need their own HIPAA-compliant chat apps like TigerText, and professionals in the skilled trades want to connect on apps like Workhands. The explosion of Android is particularly relevant here, and I anticipate more apps to appear soon — either vertically integrated into specific industries (e.g., Plangrid in construction) or horizontally (e.g., ServiceMax for field professionals).
  • External Networks: At Yammer, we built external networks but they were never our core focus, and consequently they lacked some the necessary functions to thrive (e.g., security features). Consultants, lawyers, community managers, etc. routinely work with people outside their company — all via email. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to create better collaborative workspaces to bring business partners together.
  • Quora for professionals: We need more places where professionals can share ideas & suggestions with one another. Think owners of SMBs sharing tips on customer retention, or Product Marketers discussing strategies for feature launches. Less spamming your personal networks via Facebook/email, and more tapping into the right people with the relevant answers.
  • Apps built for Slack Platform: As the user base explodes, Slack has more and more opportunity to connect people both within and across companies. The fact that they are hiring a fund manager hints at their vision for the future. Bots, workflows, integrations — the possibilities are almost endless.
  • Microsoft 3.0: Microsoft has a lot of assets that could completely revolutionize the way people connect with one another at work. I could envision some powerful integrations between their messaging properties (e.g., Skype, Outlook, Yammer) and workflow-oriented acquisitions (e.g., Sunrise, Wunderlist). Excited to see how they bring these together.

Next up — Messaging. In the meantime, would love to know your thoughts!