Look at Facebook social graph. Started originally as a tool to keep in touch with your friends, it has now become too general and unspecific. Many Facebook users have more than 200 friends, and among them are: their real friends, family relatives, people they have met at professional events, favorite news sites (as a way to subscribe to the daily news feed), news feeds from favorite brands.
And it is natural, because as soon as we discover another interesting source of information, we like to subscribe to keep up with it. But all those streams put together into a common timeline represent a huge, messy, hard to consume stream of information, which, in theory, should be relevant to you.
In the result, what we tend to do when we open up Facebook or Twitter, is reading some latest updates only. You usually do not read the stream far back because as you start reading the latest updates, you start communicating around them and stick at the top of the stream. Often this communication is in real time as people who post recent posts are still online.
I’ve noticed myself and heard recently from other people, that, surprisingly to themselves, they now open Facebook more often than Twitter. I think the reason is that Facebook is a mix of stream and real-time communication platform (you can see who is online and start chatting, play games, etc) while Twitter is a pure stream platform. Opening Facebook is like entering a room where continuous discussion is always going on and seeing who is there right now discussing what. The problem is that if the current discussion on your Facebook page is not interesting, you don’t have an instrumentation to “change the room” to go hang out with another group of people.
We need a service that would dynamically fetch small groups of people from your big general contact list, specific to your current context. So that you can communicate/interact within the group in real time and then move on. We called such a group a flashmob.
Such services start to appear, here are the examples.
- Turntable.fm - is the brightest example of this idea. I am a huge fan of Turntable.fm! People get together in virtual rooms to listen to music or play music for each other, communicate and interact synchronously. In Turtable.fm, your Facebook contact list serves as a serendipitous guide to choose the room: you can check out the rooms where one of your Facebook friends is currently hanging out. Friends-based recommendation here serves only as a hint to start. Often you quickly find a cool room and it is not necessary that your friends are there. You choose a room that suits best your current situation, like “Coding Soundtrack” or “90s night”. Here is a great post by GigaOm about the idea and Turntable.fm: “Say hello to the alive web”.
- Shaker - a Facebook application recently launched at TechCrunch Disrupt that turns your Facebook page into a bar ;). From MG Siegler’s post: “Your Facebook profile becomes a walking avatar. Your pictures are placed on an actual (well, virtual) wall. You can choose what music is playing in the room for everyone to hear. And you interact with other Facebook users as avatars. You can even buy people drinks.”
- Google+ Hangouts - online video chat with some of your G+ friends. From another GigaOm’s post: “It isn’t a chat (in the traditional Internet sense) and it isn’t a conference call. Hangout with folks you want to connect, even for a few seconds, enjoy an immersive interaction and then move on.”
- Chill - turntable.fm for video. You enter a “lounge” where you can passively watch videos currently playing in that lounge, or choose a video to play, and wait for your turn.
- Foursquare - even old Foursquare partly supports this idea: when you check-in to a venue, Foursquare shows you who else is around, not necessary your Foursquare friend. Thus, organizing a flashmob of people who is at this venue right now.
- GroupMe, Kik and many other group messengers for mobile phones. They are designed for synchronous communication within a group of your friends. My friends and I use Kik and it is very useful. In Kik, you create different groups out of your big flat contact list. You can communicate via short messages within those groups. Groups can be easily created for each new topic. Sometimes I participate two discussion threads in parallel on Kik, talking about different things in different groups - flashmobs.
- Chatroulette was an early example of this trend, although the world instead focused on the vileness of its content. Here is my favorite post about Chatroulette by Nick Bilton: "The Surreal World of Chatroulette".