WSJ on Tech in 2003

WSJ looks at the year that has been for technology – a good one from the stock market point of view, with the Nasdaq up more than 40%.

One of the articles looks at what it calls “networks of the future” – how social networking sites and mobile technologies are remaking our social circles.

“We’re just at the beginning of seeing this big change,” says Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor at the Interactive Telecommunications program at New York University, who says the shift is a result of society’s transformation from being industrial and agrarian to urban and information orientated. He says people have made the underlying switches to computers and networks, but society always lags behind technology. “Now, we’re finally seeing the invention of new tools and social structures for dealing with social life in this changed world,” Prof. Shirky says.

MIT’s Prof. Hampton just finished a prototype of social networking location-based service based on e911 — an emergency system mandated by the Federal Communications Commission that pinpoints emergency calls from cellphones geographically using satellites. Users of Prof. Hamptom’s software create a profile and list of buddies. Then, they can tell when a buddy — or a buddy’s buddy — is near them.

“The idea is to increase urban serendipity, reinforce contact amongst existing social ties, and expand the diversity of people’s social ties by introducing them to new social contacts,” says Prof. Hampton, who says he is searching for a cellphone operator to work with on the project.

A group at Intel, meanwhile, is working on building a device that lets people visualize the relationships they have to strangers they see around them everyday, called “familiar strangers.” The device lights up when such strangers who also have devices are around and researchers predict this will help people more easily formulate ideas about the places around them (is this a good bar or restaurant?) as well as perhaps more easily connect with those familiar faces. For example, the device of a person on a trip would light up when someone familiar is nearby, and that in turn might encourage conversation.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.