Usually when you hear “social discovery,” someone’s talking about an alternative to search engines – finding what you want with the help of your friends. It’s a feature of Facebook for example. But the social network site Tagged.com, which is all about social discovery, defines it in a different, very interesting way. Instead of being about existing friends (social networks) discovering new things, Tagged is about discovering new friends in existing interest groups and communities – such as politics, film, books, and games. Does that make sense? It’s hard to articulate because so new, but it really illustrates how digital media are multiplying the ways we can all meet, learn, create, play, and change the world. If that overwhelms, here’s a simple example: Tagged’s new game, “Elections.”
“In Elections,” the Tagged press release says, “players are assigned to one of three ‘parties.’ Through teamwork and strategy players earn votes for their respective teams. At the end of the round the votes are tallied and one of the teams is declared the winner. Each election lasts for 30 days and then a new one begins. The event-based structure of the game creates added tension and fun for the players, driving them to collaborate to earn votes as fast and efficiently as possible.” Players get to know each other in the process of playing the game.
You might call that playful interest community. It puts finding new friends or even potential dates into a whole different context from going to a bar or Match.com – the context being one’s interests rather than dating. But what Tagged told me when I called them about this – and what I find reassuring as a parent – is that the goal isn’t finding a romantic partner or flirting with people you don’t know. These interest spaces aren’t set up for that the way dating sites are, and there’s no pressure in that regard, unless from a particular player, and I hope we’ve always talked with our children about romantic pressure and harassment so that they can recognize and deal with it online as well as offline. The focus of these social games is socializing and having fun around shared vertical interests. Tagged’s just-announced acquisition of four-year-old WeGame (see TechCrunch) will only expand the possibilities and interest base.
That’s what I mean by the way social media are multiplying our opportunities for learning, creating, collaborating, finding support and changing the world. As tech and media scholar Clay Shirky said at the South by Southwest conference in Austin last spring, “We have overestimated the value of access to information and underestimated the value of access to each other.” In fact, like it or not, that is the social discovery we are all engaged in right now – planet-wide.