Local, Wireless, Social Networking

Living in a small flat in London and being a home worker has resulted in spending a fair amount of time at the local coffee shops. This helps give me a change in scenery; something different from sitting in my uncomfortable wooden Ikea chair that has driven me to the brink of irreparable back trouble. One day while sitting in a Starbucks I got to thinking about how the local wireless networks within these venues could enable what I would call a ‘local social network’.

First off, I would go out on a limb and say that many of the people working at coffee shops in the middle of a weekday are likely to fall into one (or more) of the following categories:

  • A professional traveling for business and requiring a place to work
  • Home workers
  • Small business owners or independent consultants

If we assume this is true for the sake of argument, then it is also fair to say that at any one time there is a lot of people with varying skill sets sitting in one of these stores. Unfortunately I don’t have any real statistics on this, but I suspect that these people are also likely to be using the available wireless networks.

Taking this a step further, what are the chances that these people might be interested in seeking out new expertise in a particular field? For instance, it seems possible that some sort of IT consultant might be in need of a graphic designer, or that a small business owner is interested in finding someone with web design experience. Of course anything is possible but this thought process led me to wonder what if, when you logged into the local WIFI hotspot, you could choose to identify your personal area of expertise or small business’ market? Further, anyone already at a particular location, and any new people signing into the network, would be able to see who was there and what field of expertise they had. At Starbucks, at least, where T-Mobile operates the wireless network, they already have the information about your location so the data presented to users would be specific to the shop you were at and could automatically update when you disconnected and left the store. This mechanism would allow the seeker of a service/product to meet face to face with a potential supplier in an informal environment to quickly assess whether the person’s offerings match up with what they are looking for. In many ways this doesn’t seem all that different from the markets and bazaars of historic cities, where anyone with products and services could go to the city market to share their wares with the public, in the hopes that there were people looking for precisely what they were offering. In this case, the idea of the public market has simply been transformed to a different venue, where the trade is more of knowledge based services than physical objects, and where the initial connections are made in a different manner.

Interconnecting people in this way is really just another form of a Social network, much like the ones we all know: LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. In a few ways however, it is fundamentally different. For instance

  • Geographical dispersion of the participants. This idea is focused on a local venue, members of the network are virtually within eyesight as opposed to having a global reach.
  • Knowledge of the people on the network. Here you don’t actually know any of the participants whereas in most other networks you are either connected directly or through others.
  • Type of communications. This is more ‘live’ networking in that you could actually interact with the person immediately compared to other types of social networks where the communication is more asynchronous.

No doubt, this idea could be taken many steps further with various ‘Web 2.0’ish mash-ups such as linking the data into LinkedIn profiles, Google Maps to map out the instantaneous location of certain expertise, or perhaps a link into IM networks to help establish initial communication. So if anyone at Starbucks or T-Mobile is out there listening, perhaps you should be considering a joint venture – who knows maybe you’ll sell more coffee and get more WIFI subscribers!