Go Farther: The SocialBox


So Google's Hangouts may be a killer app: http://gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/is-googles-hangouts-its-killer-app/.  The article – and indeed Hangouts itself – emphasize what people want in social tech: immediate, human connectivity.

This got me thinking, which is not unusual.  Hangouts, Skype, Facebook chat, all point me towards what I believe could be the future social "killer app;" indeed a service so needed I expect multiple companies to try and make it.  I'll call it The SocialBox.

Imagine a device that, beyond its other features (say . . . gaming or playing video or TV) that has a social chat feature just like Google Hangouts.  You can chat on your TV, share video and documents, watch shows together, play games . . . in short some device that allows people to socialize automatically, at all times, right through their television.

Would you use it?  Hell, I would.  I'm sure many people would as I see people becoming more and more wired together all the time.  Look at multiplayer games.  Look at Hangouts.  Look at Skype.  Look at the XBox social features.

We're on our way to the SocialBox right now.  In some cases we're probably 70-80% there.

I can see the future being much like this: You chat and text and email on various devices.  When you get home, you flip on the TV and fire up the SocialBox (whatever it is).  Your friends everywhere can sign on for a nice video chat over dinner, watch TV together, etc.  You end up with a  virtual living room, sans the shoeprints on the coffeetable.

Of course the "Social Box" wouldn't be a solo product, it'd be part of something else – a cable package, Google TV, XBox, etc.   It's viability would depend on how it integrated other features like music charing, document sharing, and gaming.

Ultimately (and ideally) I'd see a SocialBox feature being offered through multiple channels, with the different vendors and services reluctantly sharing some data.  Perhaps some SocialBox providers would arise that integrated different social features, acting almost as a kind of broker or neutral ground.

So who could do this?

  • Cable companies.  Comcast wants to re-invent television, and though I'm no fan of Comcast, they'd have a chance to do this.
  • MIcrosoft.  They are clearly working on doing more with the XBox, and frankly I think what they're doing so far looks pretty good.  The XBox is easily going to become a SocialBox – it may well be the prime example.
  • Google.  Hangouts and their other services combine well to make a potential SocialBox – probably via GoogleTV.  They're a very viable candidate since they have so many other services.  They, along with Microsoft, are the prime candidates to develop SocialBox.
  • Facebook.  Facebook would probably make a deal with hardware providers to jump on board, but they have name recognition, ambition, and the audience base.  You can certainly bet they're going to be far more prominent on XBox.
  • Apple.  Because Apple has a viable ecosystem, and a venture into Television (albeit a sort of poor one).

Other Players:

  • LinkedIn.  Imagine deluxe business conference features?
  • Netflix.  They're the neutronium gorilla in the streaming space, and integrating with multiple social features to have your own viewing party or MST3K/Rifftrax would have a lot of appeal.
  • OnLive.  They're building a huge streaming service.  For games.  Think about it.
  • Steam and Steamlikes.  Social media integration further with games?  A new API?  Who knows.

Those on the sidelines:

  • Amazon.  They don't' have any social tools, and may damn well want some for their future ecosystem.
  • Wal-Mart.  If "SocialBox" becomes the big thing, Wal-Mart's potential as an ecosystem developer is lowered.
  • Nintendo.  They still seem behind on game integration with social media.

That's my theory.  We want, need, and are probably evolving towards SocialBox.

What's your take?

Steven Savage