“All kitchens are filthy, Mr. Fawlty, in fact the better the kitchen, the filthier it is. . .” Basil the Rat, Fawlty Towers
Mobile applications have changed the face of social media in a few short years. According to a recent study, 87 percent of the world’s population (5.9 million subscribers) has a mobile device, and 20% of those users have 3G coverage (mobiThinking). The study also shows that in the U.S., 25 percent of mobile users only access the web through their mobile device. All of this goes to show that mobile apps are having an effect on how social media spreads, and are poised to continue to have a significant effect on the future of social media.
Mobile apps carry the social media revolution into the ‘real’ world. For example, consumers engage in new forms of immediate market research thanks to apps such as the Amazon app and Amazon price check app. In April 2012, Best Buy’s CEO Brian Dunn left the corporation after a career with the company beginning as a “blue shirt” thanks to criticism that he was ineffective in meeting the challenges posed by online retailers such as Amazon. In particular, the criticism leveraged by the industry and aired by a Dateline NBC segment, was that Best Buy had become Amazon’s showroom (Skariachan). However, the challenge posed by Amazon is not limited to high end electronics. Amazon offers everything from Kleenex to diamond rings, all of which can be price checked in a moment using the Amazon price check app. Simply scan the bar code and find the best price for the item. Shoppers have been empowered by mobile apps to think beyond getting an item to finding it for the best price. As brand loyalty takes a second seat to personal benefit, the market economy shifts to favor the buyer not the seller.
The potential for shifting power relationships through social media has not go unnoticed by the United States Department of Labor. Mobile apps and instant comparison information offered the perfect forum for social activism. In 2011, the DOL announced a mobile app contest called the DOL Occupational Employment Statistics App Challenge. Prizes were to go to application designers who could use DOL data sources (or other online data sources) to make users more aware of the information collected by the DOL and could use that information to make long-term decisions related to education, career, or more immediate decisions, such as where to spend money.
The winners were announced in October 2011. First and second place went to mobile apps that provide essentially the same information. They use geocoding to identify the restaurants, stores and hotels that have health, OSHA or Department of Labor code violations, allowing consumers to choose establishments that have chosen to operate safely and fairly. Eat Shop Sleep is available to both iPad and Android platforms, while iCitizen Labor Report is available only from the iPod App store. Consumers can let companies know that they feel committed to fair labor practices, safe working environments, and compliance with food safety laws by looking up a local business and instantly retrieving an easy to use rating that lets the consumer know how compliant that business establishment is. Being socially conscious and active has never been so easy.
These apps hint at the future value of the merging of information and portable technology to all of us. Economic awareness is part and parcel of the social media world. As Clay Shirky points out, this is truly a revolutionary moment. For the first time in history, people have both the technological and social mandate to control what is said in a public forum (Shirky). They are allowing information that is relevant to be accessed easily and immediately to allow for decision-making that benefits the user. Mobile apps do more than make old information relevant, they have the power to reshape habits and democratize the ‘real’ social marketplace just as the virtual marketplace has already started changing.
Amazon price check app. Application for Android, available at http://www.amazon.com/Amazon-com-Price-Check/dp/B005QTZSRA/ref=sr_1_4?s=mobile-apps&ie=UTF8&qid=1336843804&sr=1-4
Eat Shop Sleep. Application for Android, available at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rgm.eatshopsleep
iCITIZEN LABOR REPORT. Application for Apple iPod, available at http://mobilepublic.org/MobilePublic/iCitizen.html
Occupational Employment Statistics Challenge. Retrieved May 9, 2012 from http://employment.challenge.gov/
OPA News Release. (2011, October 27). US Department of Labor Announces Winners of Online and Mobile Development Contests. United States Department of Labor. Retrieved May 10, 2012 from http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/opa/OPA20111568.htm
mobiThinking. (2012, February). Global mobile statistics 2012. Retrieved April 24, 2012 from http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats
Shirky, C. (2009, June). How Social Media Can Make History. TED, Retrieved April 2, 2012, from http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_ make_history.html
Skariachan, D. (2012, April 10). Best Buy CEO out as more shoppers move online. Reuters, Retrieved May 9, 2012 from http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20120410/FINANCE01/120419953/1004/best-buy-ceo-out-as-more-shoppers-move-online