The evolution of Social Networks: What will the future look like?
For nearly a decade, social media platforms are transforming our businesses and social lives through networking people and enabling individuals to communicate and collaborate. Networking and collaboration have always been at the heart of social and business success. The disruptive power of social networks on businesses and social processes stems from their ability to establish collaborative networking structures much in the same way humans come together and collaborate in the real world. Nevertheless, the main difference is that social networks are much larger in size and much faster than conventional human networks.
During the past decade, social networks and social media have not only grown in scale and robustness rather they have been enriched in terms of features and functionalities including new content lifecycles and delivery modalities. The latter have gradually led to the emergence of different types of social media platforms such as professional networks (e.g., LinkedIn, ResearchGate), networks focused on video and image sharing (e.g., Instagram) and recently networks that implement novel content lifecycles (such as Snapchat). It’s therefore evident that social networks are constantly evolving in terms of functionalities while new platforms are emerging despite the dominant character of some of the existing infrastructures such as Twitter and Facebook.
Close to end of the current decade it’s worth exploring how social networks are likely to evolve and what lies ahead in terms of on-line sociality. In several cases, this evolution takes advantage of top technology trends in order to improve user experience, enable intelligent services and increase automation.
One of the main trends in social networks is and will be their integration with AI-based components and services as a means of increasing automation and intelligence. We are already seeing a tangible instance of this convergence in the cases of chatbots which are gradually becoming an integral part of messaging applications both within and outside social networking platforms. Chatbots enable fast, intelligent and automated interactions with end-users. These functionalities extend messaging applications and social networking platforms in scope and functionality. They are very appealing to technology-savvy users notably to younger generations who are very comfortable in using messaging for everyday tasks i.e. from getting customer service to ordering pizza. Beyond chatbots, we expect other AI components such as shopping agents and ad recommendation engines to become integrated with social networking platforms in order to facilitate on-line services. Moreover, many AI games are likely to emerge as social networking applications.
Another trend towards improving user-experience is the integration of augmented reality within social networking platforms and their apps. AR integration is meant to enable more pleasant, effective and ergonomic interactions while facilitating end-users to have more fun when using social networking apps. As a prominent example, Instagram has recently added AR Face Filters which enable users to map and apply animations to their face. AR face filters were added following the addition of similar functionalities in Snapchat and Facebook. The importance of AR for all these major social networking sites is reflected in the fact that they recently acquired AR-expert startups as a means of gaining access to AR knowhow and functionalities.
It’s also important to note that Facebook has a complete and ambitious strategy for AR integration as Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg pointed out that AR will be the future of smartphones. Facebook’s AR strategy was presented in the company’s 2017 F8 developer conference where some motivating examples about the use of AR with Facebook were given. In one exemplary scenario, smartphone users are able to use the Facebook app in order to view Yelp-style reviews and friends’ suggestions over real-scenes. Facebook believes that they will be able to monetize AR visualizations through offering corporations with benefits and incentives to support AR features.
Thinking beyond incremental improvements over existing social networking paradigms we expect machines to start forming or participating in social networks. Billions of things are already connected to the Internet including several smart objects i.e. objects with semi-autonomous behavior. Hence, these objects are already able to engage in peer-to-peer (i.e. Machine-to-Machine) interactions. This will be the foundation for making these interactions cognitive through adding intelligence and social dimensions. Early instances of such interactions can be found in smart transport applications where numerous sensors and control devices within vehicles engaging in different types of applications as part of V2I (Vehicle-to-Infrastructure), V2P (Vehicle-to-Pedestrian), V2G (Vehicle-to-Grid) and V2V (Vehicle-to-Vehicle) interactions. The rise of autonomous driving is likely to make interactions between machines and people more robust and cognitive.
In the coming years we expect applications to increase in scale and sophistication while involving more interactions with humans as well. Hence, both humans and machines will be participating in solving societal problems in various sectors such as transport, logistics, manufacturing, energy and supply chain management.
Distributed ledger technologies (also known as “blockchains”) are likely to play a significant role in the future of social networks. The rationale behind this prediction is based on the fact that they offer clear advantages in several areas which are listed below
Overall, the evolution of social networks is in several cases driven by some of the mainstream digital trends which are also shaping users’ needs in terms of the ways they would to like to access and use on-line services. At the same time, new concepts are emerging (e.g., the blockchain approach) which hold the promise to change the current centralized social networking paradigm. A key success factor for all ideas that involve social networking platforms is the availability of viable business models that could lead to monetization of these features. We can however safely assume that social networks will be embracing future sociality concepts (such as interactions with machines) which will make the users’ happier and our world a little better.
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