KPN & Hyves cooperate: proximity-based social networking

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Dutch tech/nerd blog tweakers.net report that Hyves, Holland’s most popular social network, has struck a deal with operator KPN (the biggest telcom in NL) to add locational information to text messages Hyves users send to each other. According to KPN, questions such as “where are you?” and “what are you doing?” are often asked by mobile phone users.

KPN customers can switch the service on by first registering for this service on Hyves. Whenever they send a text message containing information about what they are currently doing to a specific number, they will be positioned on a Google Maps application within Hyves, which may be seen by other Hyves users.

This is just another step in the field of LBS (location based services) that telcoms are seemingly desperately trying to develop. LBS had been a buzzword for some time now, but the real “killer-app” hasn’t come up yet. I’m curious to see how this will develop, since these are very strong partners indeed.

Just a thought, I think questions as quoted above like “where are you?” and “what are you doing?” shouldn’t be taken too literary. We don’t really need or even want to know this information all the time. They are often just a sign of reciprocal involvement with the life of the other person, a type of mobile gift exchanges.

Moreover, part of the fun in talking through the mobile phone is also the joy of imagining what someone else is doing at the moment, and trying to picture where he or she is. It is part of the process of creating “imagined proximity” or “co-presence”. I wonder what kind of new imaginings will arise when this kind of background information is already given through location based services? If we know all this kind of stuff in advance, is there even sense in still making the actual phone call? Perhaps in an unexpected way, LBS as the chicken with the golden eggs may turn out to be a bullet in the telcoms own foot.

Michiel de Lange
Michiel de Lange (1976) is a part-time Lecturer in New Media Studies at Utrecht University, and a researcher and adviser of new media and urbanism. He is trained as a cultural anthropologist, and holds a PhD in philosophy (2010) with a dissertation about mobile media technologies and urban identities. He collaborated in a locative media art & science project (www.nomadicmilk.net). He worked for Knowledgeland, a Dutch think-tank that aims to strengthen the knowledge-based society. Here he worked on several projects at the intersection of ICTs and the city, e.g. co-organizing the Creative Capital conference. He also volunteered and worked for Cybersoek, a computer neighborhood center in Amsterdam. He is advisor e-culture at Mediafonds. Michiel is on Twitter and LinkedIn.