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From 'What are you doing?' to 'Where are you?'

January 2010

By Alexander von Mollard, Berlin

Keeping your online social networks organized can be hard work. Once you meet people on different occasions you might want to add them to your personal rolodex but don’t know how to categorize them. Enter poken, a new product on the European market since May 2009 that pools all of your social networks into one high-end device.

Appearing like a mixture of a USB stick and a simple keychain accessory, it utilizes Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to allow the exchange of online social networking data between two devices. It carries all of the necessary data on a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip encoded as a serial number. When two people touch their pokens’ hands together - giving a "high-four" due to the four-fingered logo - a flashing green light appears in the poken’s palm that lets the user know their contact information has successfully been exchanged.

Once you plug the poken into your computer, you are able to manage all the information collected via pokenHub - an account similar to iTunes. It offers a timeline and several profiles that lets you decide which information you would like to share and which you might rather keep private. pokenHub currently supports up to thirty networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn) and synchronizing with office software like Outlook is no problem. Berlin's young people in particular claim to have a very good user experience with poken. They like the concept of having all their social networks in their pockets up and running. Some clubs have even started up poken nights and parties, facilitating face-to-face relationships that can continue online.

The design might take a little time to get used to as they come in rather cartoonish forms such as tiny bats, babies or panda bears. An advanced version called the pokenPulse has just been released and comes with a more mature appearance so that even at a business meeting or a convention, you can use one of these devices without being seen as childish.

Another break in social media networking seems to be the shift from "What are you doing?" to "Where are you?" Gowalla, a new iPhone app is currently very popular among Berlin night-owls as it lets users instantly know where their friends are. It started as a normal website but quickly turned out to be more useful as a mobile application that can discover its surroundings and share that with the online community right away. Also functioning as a virtual city guide, when out and about users can create spots they just "checked in" and can directly upload this to multiple social networks of their choice. Of course it’s Facebook and Twitter again that form the major platform for sharing.

Gowalla certainly has potential although, as of now, it’s only available for iPhone users. The Android version for other smartphones hasn’t been implemented yet but I predict it won't be long...


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