Mapping: The New Social Media?

People are always wondering what the next big thing in social media will be. A Super-duper Tweet? A fully optimized Facebook phone?

But what if the next biggest thing in social media has already arrived: maps?

As we all know, the institution of mapping has been around slightly longer than Twitter and Facebook. ;) Yet, despite being the ripe old age of infinity, mapping has continued to be just as pertinent to people’s lives as it was when Columbus made his way across the Atlantic, or when the Roman’s laid out their iconic network of roads.

Now sure, paper maps, at least from a utility standpoint, were put to bed a long time ago. However, mapping, now in a digital form, remains an integral part of life, and nowhere is that more apparent than in social media.

Think about it for a moment—would social media be the same without mapping and navigation elements? From a technical and end-user perspective, of course not.

Sure, people would still have friends to follow or add. But we want to know what our friends and colleagues like to do and, central to that, where they like to go. And services such as foursquare and Facebook have not only made this cool and socially expected, they’ve also made it the norm (even if you’re not checking in, you’re broadcasting your location somehow). Remember—any type of location-based tech, like these services and like most social media networks today, requires a map. So, mapping is at the center of social media. It powers your favorite app. It’s social.

And mapping’s sphere of social media influence doesn’t just stop there. Beyond being a critical component to social, mapping has also been improved by it. Yes, the maps themselves have become social.

Take Waze – the oft-rumored Apple acquisition target, that offers “social navigation,” or even our beloved OpenStreetMap (crowdsourcing and social are inherently linked) – as examples of how mapping isn’t just something we want to power an app’s features. Instead, mapping itself has become a social platform.

That mapping has become core to social and itself social shouldn’t be a surprise given the nature of it as an ever-changing and evolving medium. It’s a marriage that makes all the sense in the world.

Perhaps, then, we should stop looking for the next big thing in social. Rather, we should realize, it’s already here. It’s mapping.