The Evolution of Theme Parks and Social Networking
I recently came across an article discussing "real-world" socializing in this modern age of online social networking.
In all actuality, theme parks have historically been a structured venue for "real-world" socializing. You don't need Facebook to have a good old fashioned family picnic at an amusement park. (Although Facebook might actually help you in getting the buzz out to your family members.)
However, I see an age where theme parks evolve in such a way to promote "real-world" social networking: The idea of meeting "new" people, or people you otherwise wouldn't have regular interaction with physically. (Maybe there's a reason for that? =P ) But, more than just a typical marketing ploy, could a theme park offer venues in such a way that encourages social interaction?
Please let me be clear that you don't need anything special to go hang out with people you know at, say, Disneyland. That's not my point. The idea here is a physical analogue of Facebook: A place of gathering that was meant to be so--for you to meet family, friends, long-lost contacts--in a purposeful, socially amenable way. I'm not suggesting you can't do these things now.
Amusement parks are places for social gathering. But, by convention, they don't allow for the social diagram to share experiences and information in a purposeful way, like Facebook does. For example, I could snap a picture of myself in a theme park and post it on Facebook. People that I might know and some I don't can then interact with that photo, making comments, replies, etc. (notwithstanding your personal security settings). But what if an amusement park participated in the sharing, distribution, and interaction of your experiences and information?
If you revert to "I don't need another security issue to potentially compromise my personal life", then you are missing my point.
If I go to an amusement park and I've never met you before, I am able to see you and whoever you are sharing your experience with. We share a public place of gathering. If I'm close enough to you, I may overhear your conversations. If you start talking about roller coasters, I might chime in. But I don't know you or your companions! That doesn't stop us, however, from having a common thread of enthusiasm in roller coasters that we are able to speak about in a public forum (like this one).
Eric might call for the members of this site to meet at a specific park for a face-to-face meet-and-greet. But how does the park itself participate in the sharing of the experience and the purposeful distribution of information for others to join? Again, by conventional standards, such interaction lends itself to the will of the visitor, and not necessarily to the marketing projections or bottom line of the park itself. Or rather, why should they care how we engage in their park, so long as we return with hungry bellies and thirsty, parched mouths? For all they care, ultimately, we are there to have fun, but really all that matters is that we buy their horrendously priced goods--if you pardon my cynicism.
So what if an amusement park capitalized on the notion that it could participate in the willing sharing and purposeful distribution of experiences and information in a manner that is more analogous to Facebook, or, for that matter, UR.com? Other than their conventional string of theme-based events.
Take on-ride photos, for example. How about logging-in to your social network of choice at the gift shop and, for a nominal fee, uploading your photo directly to your social network account? (Minus snapping a screen shot with your mobile device and doing it anyway.) You could do it from your own personal mobile device at your own recognizance, any time, any place, if the theme park were to operate like I am suggesting.
Rides like Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit are just the beginning of what I see as a new stage of evolution not just in rides, but in how theme parks operate. If the video feed from selected cars were projected onto a billboard-like video display along the park's main fairway, then the park is now engaging others in your experience, which, of course, you should have the option of opting-out of.
Moreover, what about rides that allow riders to interact together to either compete or cooperate, then upload the results for everyone to share via their social network account of choice? Like the Men in Black ride or Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, for example.
Part of what I'm suggesting, then, allows guests to take their experiences "with them", and for said guests to share those experiences via conventional social network diagrams. So, in that way, less of your romantic memories of times gone by than the marketing implications, and more in a way that you might associate your visit with ongoing social activity outside of the park itself on your own time, yet by means that were made accessible to you by the park. Let's say you allow the "Kings Island" app, which, upon entering the park, automatically places you at that location in your social network diagram, and occasionally posts pictures of you at the various attractions therein. Again, let's not confuse my topic with online privacy matters that we are all well aware of.
Perhaps what I'm ultimately saying is; if any franchise were to capitalize the most on the modern social networking phenomenon, it should be amusement parks.
In closing, what I'm proposing isn't to a certain extent "new". However, the seamless integration of online social networking analogous to physical guest experiences I see as a path to augmenting how we interact with one another at what would otherwise be a conventional theme park.