Tomorrow’s Social Products

In response to a question from a co-worker, I wanted to share some thoughts on where I think the next innovations in social will come from. Specifically, there are three technological trends that I believe have the potential to change the way we connect with other people.

While I am product builder who is more interested in what’s popular today than what will be popular tomorrow — things like drones and Oculus, though fascinating, are too inaccessible for me to get excited about — I do think it’s important to note that some of the most transformative social products were a result of new technologies going mainstream. Twitter took advantage of the the advent of SMS and mobile phones, Instagram capitalized on the insane growth in high-quality, internet-connected cameras — the list goes on. For that reason, looking ahead to the (near) future is important and informative.

The New Newsfeed

Not too long ago, I was chatting with the CEO of a “top five” social network about how smartphones were changing the consumer product landscape. We talked about about how networked mobile cameras brought us Instagram, and access to address book contacts brought us WhatsApp and Snapchat. But there was one notion we hit on that hasn’t been capitalized on by any major social product to-date:

The Lock Screen is the new Newsfeed!

In this new world of mobile apps, your push notifications live one level above every single app. No matter which icon you tap first every time you open your phone, or which service you check twenty times per day, the push notifications on your lock screen are always the first feed you see when you use your smartphone. Not Twitter, not Facebook, not Instagram.

My strong hunch is we will soon see a new, dominant social service that innovates around push notifications — what you’re sent, when, by whom, and to what end. Push notifications have insanely high conversion rates, are easily customizable and context-aware (location, time, etc), live next to all of your favorite things (the other apps you’ve allowed to send you push notifications tend to be your favorites), and live on the most visited feed on your phone. More can be done to hack push notifications in novel, social ways.

You, As A Location

Despite the fact that most of us carry location-aware computers in our pockets, there has not been a mainstream social service that revolves around where you are. Foursquare came closest but hasn’t quite appealed to some key demographics, and the company is focusing more and more on place discovery these days, and less and less on social interactions. As a result, I think there’s a big opportunity for a location-centric platform that appeals to suburban high schoolers as much as it does to urban bachelors.

To elaborate, most location-based social startups put physical locations (“venues”) at the center of their products.

“Location” tends to mean “place” not “people” even though the latter is what we really care about.

For example, you’d probably want to know if your best friend was standing in the middle of a street a couple blocks away, even though that isn’t a notable place.

Technical constraints are a big reason that past attempts held this focus but the introduction of Bluetooth LE (BLE) has changed the rules of the game. On a recent trip to Facebook HQ, I had two experiences that opened my eyes to this perspective:

  1. In a couple taps, I was able to use Bluetooth LE to blast sound from the stereos of my rental car via any app on my phone. “Hey, there’s this thing is nearby, do you want to connect?” “Yes, I do.” Imagine if that was a person (or people) instead of a car!
  2. Chris Cox told me a story about how Egyptian youth use Bluetooth to learn about events, parties, and announcements from strangers walking by, and Iranians use the technology to organize protests.

Bluetooth LE provides extremely accurate location data, and makes you — the person — the place of significance. It flips the dynamic from, “Who and what is at this physical ge0-location” to “Who and what is around me.” A subtle but important difference. It seems inevitable that we’ll see a popular social network arise in the near future that leverages Bluetooth LTE to connect with people and things that are nearby your phone.


Remember your #FirstTweet? It was was probably super concise and cautious. Your first Instagram photo probably wasn’t your best either. These days, you’re probably pretty good at making ‘grams and tweets. As we use social platforms over time we tend to get better at them. We expect more and more from ourselves and our creations, and we spend more time being deep and thoughtful. Now apply that principle one level up, to the types of apps we use on mobile platforms:

In the early days of iOS and Android, apps that supported concise media types flourished. Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat. It made sense, creation on mobile was new, and we primarily used our phones in-transit. Now we use our phones all the time, even when we’re home in bed (instead of our laptops), and by now we’re very used to typing, tapping, and creating on the small screens of our phones. Though counter-intuitive and in conflict with past trends, my strong hunch is we’ll see more heavy-weight media creation tools gain popularity in the near future.

It’s more of a social development than a technological one but I’m incredibly bullish on long-form creation on mobile.

A few data points:

  • In the photo space, Instagram’s main innovation was around creation (filters) and arguably responsible for its success, and apps like VSCO Cam have been gaining popularity as of late.
  • In the writing space, innovation around web-based composition tools has been in vogue — Medium, Svbtle, Vox, BuzzFeed etc. — yet none of these companies, or entrenched incumbents (WordPress, Tumblr), have done much to innovate around post creation on your phone.
  • As for video, it’s no secret that it has a bright future on mobile — especially with improvements to connectivity speeds — but YouTube has focused on mobile consumption, and Vine’s six-second limitation is creative yet constraining in terms of the entire addressable market.

The more and more time we spend consuming on our smartphones everyday, the more we’ll crave quality, thorough content. It only makes sense that the tools for making words, photos, and videos will move quickly to the phone, as well.

Push notifications, Bluetooth LE, and robust content creation tools — that’s where I predict that next great innovations in social will come from. What do you think?

If you’ve built something and want to show it to me, I’m now a Venture Partner at Betaworks and would love to be sent prototypes here: [email protected].

If you want to build something awesome with me, I lead new Product initiatives for Facebook’s Creative Labs (based in NYC) and am looking to hire awesome mobile engineers. If that’s you, say hi here: [email protected]

Just want to talk about this post, or hear future thoughts, hit me up on Twitter! I’m @joshm.