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Both Facebook and Twitter had a strong presence at CES in the form of apps on connected TVs, blu-ray players, set-top-boxes, and just about every other connected device. Samsung even announced that their new Internet connected refrigerator is able to display your twitter feed.
The popularity of social networks has forced consumer electronics manufacturers to include them on their products' feature list, regardless of how appropriate the application truly is. Unfortunately this knee jerk reaction to include social networks clearly demonstrates the lack of imagination or understanding as to how social networks are used by people.
Social networks go beyond just being able to read your friends' random musings as you open up the refrigerator. Rather social networks should be viewed as sources of information that can reveal valuable interpersonal connections. Re-imagine the connected refrigerator filtering your social network's activity to find and suggest recipes that have been shared by family and friends. Imagine if your refrigerator could be able to call your attention to new drinks or other edible delights mentioned in a friend's status update.
Slowly you can imagine devices being able to intelligently leverage the information of social networks, and provide the user with information they can actually use. The key to appropriate usage of social networks is - context. What is the device displaying the social network app and how is it being used? That simple question can lead to successful implementations of social networks on devices. Manufacturers must remember that the device itself automatically gives the user context. If the device is a refrigerator, the information coming from social networks should be related to, health, cooking, and other activities that are related to the kitchen environment.
As consumers learn to share and use social networks effectively, devices should evolve to use the same information to produce better user experiences. The consumer electronics world has shifted its focus away from hardware and is now focused on the users' demand for great software and services. It is important for companies to think hard and understand what connected content is best suited for the device's environment. True, in the end consumer electronics manufacturers will always pick the lowest hanging fruit first. But as social networks become even more ubiquitous, the industry needs to figure out what beyond social networks will help them differentiate themselves from the their competition. Ultimately it is not just about adding Facebook, but instead, asking, "How can we use social networks to maximize the utility of our products to the consumer?"
Bryan Gonzalez joined the ETC in early 2007 to aid with the development and build out of the Anytime/Anywhere Content Lab.