I'm on the road about half the time. As a result, I've had just about every experience a traveler can have (short of a crash, the one experience I hope to avoid). For example...
- I run into people I know at the terminal. Most recently, it was Brian Solis, who was waiting at O'Hare for the same San Francisco-bound flight I was on. We both lamented that, had we known we would be there, we could have met for a drink or a meal before heading to the terminal.
- I've gone to a conference where I saw at least three or four people who were on my flight. We could have at least shared a cab to the hotel. At most, we could have spent some time together before the flight or even shifted seats in order to talk shop and while away the hours in the metal tube.
- I've seen someone who lives near me board the flight I was on.
Today I discovered Planely, a simple social network with a simple mission: Connect passengers on flights so they can carpool to the airport, get together at the terminal, or share cabs upon arrival. You can't share photos or videos, offer a birthday greeting, post a status update or poke anybody. It does one simple thing that could appeal to a lot of people: Connect those on the same flights.
On first blush, the main benefit-sitting together-didn't appeal to me. When I get on a flight, I get my reading material out and my earbuds in as soon as possible. I don't want to have a conversation with whoever's seated beside me. I've been trapped in far too many of these conversations, and listened unwillingly to many others (usually in the row behind me) that make parachuting from a jet at 32,000 feet seem like an appealing alternative. Besides that, it can be easier to overturn an election than change your assigned seat.
Gizmodo, where I learned about Planely, thinks the idea is outright creepy.
But there have been times I've been lucky enough to sit beside someone heading to the same event. We have something in common and the conversation is valuable and engaging for both of us. Planely would make such an encounter less serendipitous; rather than luck into such a conversation (somebody has to start it and it has to go long enough for both of us to figure out that we have something in common), I would be able to plan it. The network would also let me connect with someone like Brian in advance so we can arrange to meet at the best watering hole in the terminal (which I'd find thanks to the tips on FourSqure). And given what it costs to park at the airport or cab into the city, I'm already down with the idea of finding someone to carpool or share a cab with.
This is what niche social networks can do. They don't require a huge investment of time; you only use it when you need it to produce tangible benefits around a very targeted interest. The value increases as more people join, but the only criteria here is that you fly a lot, which represents no small number of people.
I'm having fun (and procrastinating) by thinking of other communities that could take advantage of a social network with a similarly restricted scope. Here's a video introducing Planely: