Andrew Curry and Andy Stubbings write: The Shell Oil futures guru Pierre Wack described his work as being about “the gentle art of reperceiving”, and the type of work that Alex Steer has laid out in his four blog posts this week on the future of social networks is about changing perceptions by improving anticiption. We can’t know the future, but we can improve our understanding of the present and our ability to respond to change. Better anticipation, in short, increases both the depth and the breadth of vision.

So what do the six social media Pivot Points (here and here), and the tensions they represent for users, tell us about the future of social networks?

The Future of Facebook

Looking first at Facebook, it says that the model at the heart of Facebook (One for All-Big Net-TurnOn-Open Hand) may not persist. Alternative futures, for example, include a version in which ‘One for Each’ emerges as more valuable and its Connect system becomes its biggest asset, the ‘invisible social layer’ which connects other web and mobile properties, a valuable utility, without maintaining a huge public presence itself. A less promising future sees Facebook losing out as users start to value privacy and specificity more online (Tight Knit-Closed Fist-One for Each), and drift away, leaving the social network as a legacy “first generation” social network. Somewhere in between these is a future in which Facebook is less of a warehouse, and more a series of rooms, in which the tensions between One for All and One for Each are more finely balanced. In this model, it becomes a series of smaller tighter circles, but with ease of movement between them. But of course, this is also the space into which Google+ has pushed itself into with its ‘Circles” model.

Innovation spaces

Interrogating the Pivot Points, combining them in ways which stretch thinking, also starts to throw up some interesting innovation spaces.  To pick up a few here:

One strong possibility emerges from this overview: that marketers may look back at this early development stage of the social network with nostalgia, even amazement. It is not at all clear that the current dominant model, which emphasises mass engagement and openness, will persist at its current scale. In most of the futures which emerge from our thinking about the pivot points, marketers have to work harder, and smarter, to reach people who are more resistant to marketing.

Andrew Curry and Andy Stubbings lead The Futures Company’s thought leadership team on the future of media and technology. They are currently working on a report on ‘Technology 2020’. The earlier posts in this series on the future of social networking start here. The cartoon at the top of this post is by Jenna Cotton, was published by the Canadian University Press Newswire, and is used with thanks.

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