It’s long been my opinion that the next step in social media is in connecting people physically and fostering relationships in person rather than over the Internet.
Internet is impersonal, some may argue, which is definitely true. Sure, we connect with friends over Facebook, but text conversations and ‘liking’ can only go so far in creating genuine, meaningful friendships.
Which is why coffee shops — one of the few public places that seems to be conducive towards a personal, intimate atmosphere among customers and workers — would seem to be the perfect location for the beginnings of a social media revolution. A place where people don’t simply go to order coffee, but to communicate. A place to actually be social.
In some ways, that is already happening. Coffee shops have long been, and continue to be, places where friends, strangers, clients and all sorts of people with varying relationships to one another can meet and simply chat.
And now, with the increasing popularity of such apps as Foursquare and Facebook Places, which allow for users to ‘check-in’ to business locations, people have been given more compelling reasons to escape the confines of their apartments and visit these locations.
Still, apps like Foursquare and Facebook Places are just a start. Although they encourage users to interact with merchants, typically they aren’t intended to actually connect users.
And that’s exactly where apps like Gatsby fit into the mix. Gatsby, simply put, “introduces you to nearby people with interests you share,” according to their website. Essentially, a user checks in through Facebook Places or Foursquare, and then if other people nearby match some of their particular interests, the two are sent text messages with each others names. Afterwards, the app allows them to briefly chat with each other through Gatsby’s anonymous text relay and allow them to talk without giving away their phone number. Ultimately, if their interests are compatible, they’ll start talking in person.
Unfortunately, unlike Facebook Places and Foursquare, there’s little incentive and reason for anyone to actually connect with random strangers. Offering incentives beyond meeting friendly new faces (certainly a compelling factor for some) will most likely be the next logical step for some of these apps. Meet and connect with 3 new people through Foursquare? Win a medium coffee. Something that drives people to get over that initial hump of actually reaching out to others.
In that regard, too, coffee shops are perfectly positioned for this next step in social media. Coffee shops tend to be a place to hang out, a place to relax. And people seem to be more receptive towards meeting new people when they are relaxed and browsing the web or writing. It doesn’t hurt that people like coffee and breakfast, too.
Still, getting people to actively reach out to others is difficult. But that’s definitely where I feel social media is heading. After all, social media and apps in general have become increasingly more mobile. Google even realizes this, with their Google+ social network aiming to connecting people in groups, rather entire social networks. Sure, it’s not necessarily asking for people to connect in person, but additional features like Huddle, a group chat feature, seem to have been created with that goal in mind.
Will social media ever effectively translate virtual relationships to the physical world? Maybe. That’s the most optimistic answer I can give at this point. Although Foursquare and even Twitter have ultimately seen some success in doing so, it’s still a challenge to get people to actively go out of their way to meet new people. Will that always be an issue? Probably not. But until then, ‘friending’ people in person will most likely always be met with at least a slight hesitation. In an ideal future, doing so will be as simple and painless as sending a friend request on Facebook or, even better, following someone on Twitter.
Source: MSM DesignZ, Inc. is a Westchester NY Social Media company specializing in advertising, web and graphic design, and SEO.