in Tech

Using AI to Reduce Social Friction

from Katie Harbath

Running off my Friendly CRM idea, here’s another first world problem many young urban professionals have: not enough quality time with friends.

We’re all so busy living our own lives that we can’t find time to meet with the people we care about. Without proactive effort, your social network narrows to workmates and housemates. We have calendar reminders and Facebook events to keep us professionally and personally occupied, but this is all reactive, not proactive. I may want to spend time with a nearby friend, but the friction of reaching out, finding a time, and scheduling a place to meet is just too much.

Why not use technology to remove this friction? My social network is already online in a database, so a machine solution should be able to make meeting up truly effortless.

Reconnect with a Single Button

Maybe I hit a button, and it goes through my contacts (Facebook, email, whatever) and finds who I haven’t spoken to in a while, but who I have had close contact with before. It then finds a hole in my schedule (since it’s attached to my calendar) and searches for Yelp locations within a suitable distance. Bam – person, place, and time are found, and it reaches out to the person in question with the details to determine the final answer. We’ve got Clara for scheduling, so there’s no need for me to be a part of that process.

I see this as being very valuable, as trite as it may seem. There are plenty people in my life who I want to spend time with, but can’t find the time for. Except it isn’t that I don’t have the time – it’s that I don’t have the attention to spare, to find the time and make it work. This app could take care of the attention and find me the time.

All the data is already there in Facebook, your calendar, and Yelp – it’s just a matter of connecting them.

This ‘one button to solve social problem’ solution could be applied to other angles as well. Remember the couple that arranged their entire wedding through sharing economy services? They rented a venue with Airbnb, did catering with Instacart, and had servants from Taskrabbit. Final budget was under ten thousand dollars, in compared to astronomical normal wedding prices. I’m sure all of that required a lot of managing, but what if you made it easy?

Dinner Party with a Single Button

We already have operator boutiques like Magic – what if you took one of those workflows and streamlined it with trusted venues and Taskrabbits? I can tap a button, and a gourmet dinner is prepared at my house ready for my return, along with guests preselected. The what and how parts are easily solved, but the who part is tricky.

There you face the same issue as before – involving other humans complicate matters. But I think I could still hit a button, and it would search my contacts for recently non interacted people the same way, and send them casual invitations “Hey, hosting a dinner at my place on Friday, can you make it?”. Then Clara-ize the feedback until you arrive at a desired number or attendees. Hire the food with Munchery and boom, we’ve got dinner.

Apparently Factory X did something just like this –, and found that they couldn’t get people to show up. Even with human-curated gatherings with new people and down payments of 5 to 10 dollars, people said they would go and then didn’t.

But you could easily solve that with a human aide checking in, or bigger down payments, or people that they know they want to know. Don’t make it blind introductions. Tell them exactly why they chose this person to have dinner with them. Or use the curator’s personal network to facilitate their existing wish lists – maybe garnered from Twitter.

The system could even allow me to select certain types of gatherings using its machine data. I could select categories of friends, like ‘college buds’ or ‘professional friends in the same industry who should know each other’. Or it sees how many friends they have in common, to see who should know who but doesn’t.

My life is easier, my social capital is higher, my friends get to know each other, and it’s all without any extra work on my end.

I suppose what I’m talking about here is a way to add AI to social networking. It was a big jump to put our social circles into databases, but we haven’t yet leveraged that fact and put the databases to work for us yet. It sounds impersonal, but at the end of the day, it will encourage more social interactions. And that’s something we all want, right?