What are Social Objects?


kid in bowling ball costume

This could very well change the future of marketing (the bowling ball, not the kid. Okay, maybe the kid too).


Social studies, social media, social networking, social justice, social security and now, social objects.  But before you roll your eyes over the gratuitous use of the word, “social”, feast your eyes upon this article posted via the @nytimes discussing the nature and future of social objects.

Essentially, social objects are regular items – bowling balls, ipods, a bottle of wine, with embedded chips that track usage and frequency.  The power of social objects is best illustrated with an example:

Imagine a bowling ball with an RFID chip embedded which specifies the materials used, its origins and features.

The minute the ball is picked up, the chip measures, among other things, usage, frequency, wear and tear.  Here’s where the social part steps in: the ball, which is connected to the internet, has the ability to send and receive information from other racquets (players) to track performance, keep score of games and record wins or loses. Data from the ball can be a contributor to social networks – checking you into a bowling alley via FourSquare, updating your Facebook status each time you win a game, or sending you a DM through Twitter reminding you of your next tournament!


The beauty of this concept lies in the fact that inanimate objects are becoming living extensions of the user.  Now this may already be the case, whereby purchase decisions often reflect our character/behaviour/values, but here’s the difference: these objects can tell us a story.  The data derived from social objects can give us a sense of history (how was it used, at what frequency) as well as future (how should it be differentiated, trends in usage, areas of improvement).  This has critical implications for market research too – rather than arranging focus groups, which can cost hundeds, thousands or even millions of dollars, intelligence derived from these social objects can tell us more about the user and ultimately, consumer behaviour.  Pure marketing genius, I’d say.

Resources: The New York Times, Craziest Gadgets

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