I had an interesting couple of days last week holed up with industry experts and researchers discussing the Future of Social Networking at a W3C workshop in Barcelona. Topics ranged from privacy and trust, distributed networking, context and communities through to deeper adaptive user experiences. For me however, I was most interested in exploring the risks and opportunities for disabled and older users accessing social networks across devices.
That mobile is increasingly used for browsing is undisputed however it’s my firm belief that the rise and rise of social networking is a key factor inspiring more and more people to browse on mobiles, hand-helds and other devices. As Opera’s State of the Mobile Web Report said back in April 2008 “…almost 40% of traffic worldwide is to social networks. In some countries, such as the United States, South Africa and Indonesia, the social Web accounts for more than 60% of the traffic.”
As interest in sending your mate a virtual gummy bear or having a quick poke on Facebook wanes I think we’ll see a shift towards social networks growing up this year and adding services that truly add value to our daily lives and how we communicate. The opportunity this offers for people with disabilities and older people is huge as being able to store, mine and share information at key times when you are on various devices could be invaluable. Imagine if you’re blind for example, and a first year student at university lost on campus and looking for your lecture hall. Being able to plug into a network with your classmates or campus representatives to quickly find out where you are and get directions would be invaluable. So too would be being able to find an accessible restaurant with friendly and decent staff tagged by people you trust if you’re a wheel chair user out and about.
In his presentation Adding context to location, Julien Pye from Vodafone, likened social networks to Jill Price who suffers from hyperthymesia, a condition where you have an autobiographical memory and forget nothing. While in part a blessing this is also a curse as sufferers are not able to prioritise and filter memories. Social networks store all your history and the history of others you are connected with across multiple networks. Being able to mine this intelligently and filter information based on location or context means that you could drown out status updates about a mate having coffee in Canberra but be updated if that same mate is round the corner in your favorite coffee shop.
So I’m wondering, as 2009 kicks in with all it’s economic doom and gloom, if social networks in their bid to find new ways to monetise and stay relevant, will start to break down the walls between respective networks and offer real services that users benefit from in daily life. Site owners would do well to take into account interface design issues for people with disabilities and the aging for reasons that go beyond just inclusion. Disabled users are hardcore user testers with their needs pushing the capabilities and possibilities of what technology can offer users in general. Add to this that having grown up with the web and social networking we fully expect to be able to use our favorite sites later in life as we grow old these two groups are too important to ignore. I certainly don’t plan on dying young anyway.
Presentation slides and original paper
My slides Social networking across devices: opportunity and risk for disabled and older users are available in HTML and best viewed in Opera (download a copy of Opera) using Opera Show. To view them simply hit View then Full screen or Alt+F11 if on a PC, and on a Mac Opt+F11. You an also download a PDF copy of the original paper.
Links and things
- Check out the full list of workshop papers.
- Future of Social Networking official report – findings and next steps.
- Business model for open and distributed social networks – Henry Story
- Face to Facebook: social networks hit the street – location based updates to your mobile.
- The tangled web we weave (and in PDF – new window) .
- Do you want this activity stream on your mobile phone? – managing multiples streams of updates on your mobile.
- Links on my delicious account on the Future of Social Networking (#w3csn)
- Wiihab anyone? How access across devices could be a lifesaver