Social stuff that needs to be built

Hammer from Wikimedia CommonsLately there’s been a lot of commentary about emergent technology and how it can be used in professional contexts, as well as for self improvement.  Everything from Path (Facebook for limited friends) to Pinterest (basically a Posterous) to Quora (Yahoo with an ego) is being profiled as the next big thing in social.

Trouble is, they’re not big things.  They’re just variations on existing technologies and thus neither disruptive nor interesting, nor indeed solving any problems with existing technology.  Oh they’ll tell you that they are solving problems, but they’re not.

Path limits users to 50 friends.  So what?  You can do that on Facebook if you’re diligent.  Doesn’t mean you’re interacting with those 50 friends any more effectively or indeed at all.

Pinterest allows you to pin things to a home page like a cork board.  Woo. (Not.) I get the whole curative works idea, but that’s what Posterous and Tumblr have been doing for ages.

Quora gets Serious Social Media Commentators to Pose Questions and Answer Them.  And then it allows plebs to register and take part too.  The answer voting system is designed to reduce the possibility for trolling that is rampant in but frankly, who hasn’t voted for a funny troll-based response to stupid questions?  Popularity doesn’t equal  quality and this will soon relegate Quora to yet another answers system.  I’ve frequently been tempted just to post a link to the wonderful Let Me Google That For You site for every single question posed on Quora.  Perhaps it might just inspire a few research skills among users.

But there are social tools that desperately need to be built and haven’t been so far.  I keep half expecting to see them pop up, but haven’t come across them so far.  Below is a list of a few of these tools. It’s not exhaustive but it does represent a list of things I think should be out there.  Of course, please let me know if any of these do exist.

1.  SMS phone query service, returning triangulated location which can be fed into various location based services.

It’s all very well to be able to check in on Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook places etc when you arrive at a new venue.  The trouble is that for the most part your wireless and 3G/4G connection won’t actually work when you get there.  If someone could offer a localised number that would feed a location to Foursquare, etc, through a single sms, I’d probably use the location based service more often.  And I mean a single system. One SMS message which then appears as an update.  Don’t make me log in to a mobile version of Foursquare, don’t make me get my position and then feed that in manually.  Far too much effort.  I want one SMS. Bam.  Build it.

2. Shared wanted-content wishlists

This one is really odd.  I thought it would have been available ages ago, but it hasn’t really appeared.  There’s lots of “here’s what I found” or “here’s what I made” sites, but no-one has really come up with a good site which sets out content they want and has it made for them.  There are job sites like this (eg: Mechanical Turk), but there isn’t a site where people can articulate their content-oriented preferences and to find others looking for such content. is available as a domain for anyone looking in this territory too.

3. Spare parts and tools exchange

The number of times I’ve gone out and bought a full piece of fabric or metal or wood, or a purchased some obscure technology that I only wanted to use once, is outrageous.  I’d like to be able to post up to an exchange a wish for a part and have that spread through either Facebook or twitter so that I could arrange to lend a tool or get an offcut of some material to suit my needs.  Back in Brisbane if I needed materials I used to go to Reverse Garbage.  There isn’t an equivalent here, but maybe a social network could produce a virtual Reverse Garbage.

4. Network suggestion tool for ideas

Yes this seems like it’s already been built, but it hasn’t.  It’s the equivalent of a thesaurus for search queries. Rather than producing responses based on a search query, I’d like something that maps content similar to, rather than the same as, the content you seek in either twitter search or Facebook searches.  Might have to be dynamic but could be fun.

5. A search filter for twitter.

For goodness sake. Why hasn’t this been built?  You remember a tweet from someone that was a couple of months ago, and you remember someone saying this link was stunning.  You followed that link, you agreed.  Then you forgot about it again till you needed the link.  Can you find it on twitter search?  No.  It only indexes tweets for about 3 weeks.  Can you find it by scrolling down pages and pages of tweets?  No.  It takes forever and you might miss it anyway. You probably can’t even find it with a site search on Google, because you can’t remember the exact words said. But it would be so easy to build a twitter search engine that allowed date range, several user IDs and keyword strings.  This is just basic, basic stuff.  Do it.  Please.

6. Social/tech stats clearinghouse

Okay this is geeky of me.  But I’d really like a place to share statistics of technology use drawn from third party resources, and not just through Delicious.  When it comes down to it, with the Delicious search result formulation based on number of bookmarks, you won’t necessarily find the stats you need.  I’d like to be able to just post a series of links and access stats others have shared and be able to talk stats with them.  Yes it’s geeky.  But it might also be useful.

Oh gosh there are so many more ideas that keep popping up, but the point is that there are a lot of original social tools that have not yet properly been built.  And I think we need perhaps to think a bit differently about how we integrate these new tools.  Login has to be easy, and sharing between platforms essential.  The whole point is to make the tools useful to connect the right people, with the right ideas, at the right time.  Then the technology becomes transparent.  And the social experience becomes all about communication and achievement.

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