Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Auto-Biography, a Conceptual Business Piece on Social Networking, Part II

Combining ancestry.com with MySpace and lifeofmine.com, I am imagining a website that would be a social networking site disguised as a biography aide. Many older people are now interested in preserving their life stories for future generations. “Vanity” or print-on-demand publishing is practically sustained by these types of storytellers.

The site would take a cue from genealogy sites like the group run by The Generations Network, including ancestry.com and genealogy.com. The Generations sites received 10.4 million unique users in March 2007. In about a year, 2.5 million people built out a family tree on ancestry.com detailed genealogical family trees. That 2.5 million people (of which my mom is one) were clearly willing to invest time and effort into building out their histories.

The site would be designed in two stages. The first would be a set of tools that would walk older users through their lives. We’d start basic, extracting information on where the user had lived. Second, we’d have some built-in genealogical tools, possibly linking to existing genealogical applications. For older folks, building out the family social network is probably the most important one of all.

From there, we’d start to extract an organized set of information about what our users had done. Users could select a chronological order to go in and then we’d walk them through their lives, extracting and organizing data all the way. School, work, military, sites of children’s birth, churches/synagogues, summer camps, vacations, prison-time, etc, etc.

Then, within each of those locations/activities, there would be another set of organized questions, mostly memory jogs about people they might have known there. Relationships would begin to be built out there and notes could be added about various bosses, relatives, friends, etc. Pictures could be uploaded and easily tagged. Contact information including the offline stuff would be included.

The deepest ring of auto biography creation would use tools like the ones available on Life of Mine or in any autobiography book to help people add color to their lives. Life of Mine has a database of events and popular culture stuff that can be added to the life story just by clicking on them. Even simple questions like, “What were you doing on your 16th birthday?” or “How did you spend the holidays in 1968?” can go a long way towards bringing memory back to life.

All of this data could be entered and viewed in a variety of ways outside the standard surveys and forms. There’s probably many ways that the organization could be presented, but here’s some ideas:

  • Timeline, not unlike facebook; collapsible through years; media and annotations could be added
  • UserText, users could simply type things in with simple tags (person, place, year);
  • Geographical, the interface would be a map, pictures could be geotagged
  • Visual, which would show the web of relationships, starting with family and extending to people known the longest, although there are infinite ways to sort this information

These applications would have real value for boomers and upwards, who’ve led full lives and have been highly mobile and worked many jobs. It’s a pretty 1.0 idea but it’s important to realize the value in those applications. For the consumer, it is a great organization and memory aid. For the company, they have far more information about the user than other sites. The barriers to exit would be very, very high.

At that point, users could choose to Connect. The point would not be to link to all their friends in two-way relationships. The social networking part of the site would revolve around helping people flesh out their own biographies more than their social networks. While users were browsing other biographies, they could easily add locations, events, cultural events that others had tagged. Users could create “Events” or “Times” which users would their own recollections to and from which they could draw for their own biographies (e.g. Lincoln High School Prom, 1987, the day MLK, Jr was shot, or Woodstock).

Obviously, with users entering so much detail and opinion, access to that information becomes a sticky issue. (On the other hand, it gives us a good opportunity to think about permissioning issues.)

Privacy/permissions settings would allow users enormous flexibility. Certain information would compose the “standard” profile. For information beyond that, there would be an in-depth permissioning process that would allow users to keep birds of a feather together if they wanted to. A user could allow only people from a certain time period and geography to see that time period, geography, or activity. So, for example, all the people I knew in Portland in 2005 could only see items related to that time period. My life since then and in other places would be opaque to them, but people I went to college could perhaps see that time period (or only just college).

I’m sure there are lots of holes and things I haven’t thought of. Tell me all about them in the comments. Am I selling older consumers desire to social network short? Maybe it’s just my mom who is happy having 7 facebook friends, as long as two of them are her two children.

Part III, due this week, will discuss monetization and how the best ads are already embedded in people's minds and memories. |

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1 Comments:

At October 4, 2007 at 7:32 AM , Blogger gretch0r said...

Hey - where'd you go? I enjoy reading your entries...

 

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