Ambient Social Networks will change everything… EVERYTHING


ASN’s are in their infancy today,  but when they mature they will have wholesale impacts on both consumers and the businesses that serve the consumer.

Let’s talk about what an Ambient Social Network is and what it isn’t. In its most basic form it assumes you carry an active smart-phone or tablet device and that device does two things:

  • it proactively identifies you to a level of disclosure you are comfortable with (Name, Picture,  Contact information being the primary demographic data)
  • it tells the network where you are via GPS (satellite), GPS-A (Telco) or Wi-Fi coordinates.

Now let’s look at a simple commercial scenario. You are a member of an ASN, you are travelling to Toronto and have a reservation at the Fairmont Royal York. The Royal York has ASN software linked with their reservation system and shows you on a screen with your distance from the hotel.  The Doorman sees your face on the screen approaching in the hotel in 3,2, 1 minutes and “Hello Mr. Hunter Welcome to the Royal York, Here’s your room card sir, may I help you with your bags? You are in room 1407.” You walk across the street to Bardi’s for dinner with your colleague for a 7 pm reservation.  They have not yet arrived. You check your phone, you see via the ASN they are South bound on the Don Valley parkway, 10 kilometers away, you have time to order a pre-dinner drink. You look again at your smartphone screen and you notice that a former colleague is also at Bardi’s, you haven’t seen them in years but do have them in your Linkedin group. You take a quick walk through the restaurant and there she is. You shake hands and  confirm a post-dinner chat at the hotel bar.

The Ambient Social Network will change just about everything in the way we as humans interact. We will decide to whom we will disclose information, how much we will disclose and then let the system manufacture opportunities we would not have had except for serendipity.

In the example above;

  • The traveller is on an ASN network (this may very well be Facebook in the near future). 
  • They have given permission to Fairmont Hotels to see
    • their location if in the city of the hotel and where there is a preexisting reservation
    • their first name and  last name
    • a standard Head-shot picture for Visual Identification

With this information, the traveller is greeted by name, with the room card in hand immediately upon arrival.

  • The traveller’s colleague also is on an ASN and provided the permission for their colleague to have access to their location when an appointment appears in their calendars for +/- 2 hours on each side of the appointment.

With this information, the colleague knows that they are in-transit and will be quite a few minutes late for dinner.

  • The traveller’s former colleague is also on an ASN and has set their profile to allow anyone on their Linkedin list to see their current location if the other person is also within 1 Kilometer of them.

With  this information , the traveller renews an old connection by finding their colleague at a table in the restaurant.

ASN’s only work when the rules about disclosing information are robust enough to protect privacy and ensure confidentiality of personal information.

Let’s look at an example with more disclosure. You are attending a conference. You set your ASN to disclose to any conference member your name, location, specialty areas, company, contact information and scheduled presentations when you are present at the conference only.

Now conference attendees can search for experts with specific specialty areas, find your name and location, know where you are speaking or attending and either arrange to meet you explicitly or simply go to your location to be introduced informally.

The initial prerequisite technologies are in place today. Most everyone owns a smart-phone with multi-band location services (sat, telco, wi-fi) and if they don’t they will soon as the standard cell phone disappears from the market.  The basic ASN software is starting to appear on some devices and with hosted network support (iPhone Highlight)


What has not yet matured is the all important permissions model, where you at an extremely fine grained control level you can decide specifically what you will or won’t disclose, when and to whom nor is there yet a holistic approach to devices and integration with the major social networks (Facebook, MSN/Live, Yahoo,  Linkedin etc. ) but that will happen for sure in the next few years.

Imagine you are an owner of an Italian restaurant. You have software that shows you everyone within a 10 block radius that likes Italian food and it’s dinner time. You send a message out to every one who has disclosed in their public profile (the same as they would on Facebook) that they like Italian food and invite them for dinner at a 15% discount when your reservations are light. The ones who allowed notifications can click on it , set a reservation time and their name and face is added to the reservation list so you  and the server can greet and talk to them by their first name.

It will change everything and create an entirely new IT business. in the process.

What an ASN is not, is a perpetual broadcast of your information and location. Uncontrolled broadcast is simply not workable but a fine grained, permissions controlled environment will enable our world to make personal and business connections and communicate in ways never before imagined.

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