The Quarantine is Exposing Gaps in Social Connectivity Products
With our new remote lives, we shouldn't have to repurpose business tools to stay personally connected
By Tatiana Chilcovsky, Sr. Experience Strategist, Code and Theory
So, you’re trapped at home. Me too. This actually isn’t my first time being stuck at home. Last year I had a back injury and worked from home for 3 months, so I’ve gotten used to it. With that said, there are so many people who live their lives with difficulty leaving the house. This isn’t a new circumstance, it’s just one that’s affecting able-bodied people for the first time en masse and in a major way. As we all turn to digital solutions to replace our close-proximity and shared space experiences, there are some large gaps in the market that are ripe for innovation. While some companies have already quickly adapted, there are still areas of opportunity within several lifestyle spaces.
If you think about it, it’s kind of hilarious that we’re using enterprise B2B tools like Google Calendar and Zoom to hang out with our friends in our downtime. “Do you have a link to the call?” has become a common question I ask my friends and has revealed new facts about them, like how well they read their emails and meeting details (which, I never really needed to know). Simply put, we’re all using enterprise tools for personal activities.
One app that has significantly risen in popularity during this time is Houseparty. The app allows people to create rooms for anyone to join, and takes a fluid, guard-down approach that makes the app more social than corporate. The games and integrations allow for a focal point in the experience, whether it’s trivia, a game or otherwise, which keeps it from being unintentionally chaotic.
While Houseparty is doing a great job allowing people to host digital events, there are so many other parts of meeting up with friends that could use a pivot from corporate to social: like sending a calendar invitation to a scheduled event, or streaming a live audiovisual event like a DJ set. I never thought I’d say the sentence “Charlie XCX did a DJ set on a Zoom meeting,” and I hope that’s not the backup plan for Coachella.
Beyond initially meeting up and seeing each other, there are lots of elements of hanging out with friends that have been difficult to replicate online. I, for one, love to host game nights at my apartment — playing games like Carcassonne, Settlers of Cattan, and Poker, as well as online games like Quiplash.
When I set out to host my first digital game night I was shocked to find out how few online games allow for invite-only rooms and relaxed gameplay. I had to sneak into the gamers’ circles of Code and Theory’s Slack channels for someone to finally recommend Tabletop Simulator. This paid Steam app gives users digital controls over decks and dice, and is built open-source so the community can contribute to it through “workshops.” I was able to find nearly every game I was looking for, and my friends and I played a great game of Code Names. However, Tabletop Simulator is far from a sophisticated product and is fairly hidden by being on Steam.
You see this with watch parties, as well. I love having a few friends over to watch a movie, and this is an experience that people have missed throughout the quarantine. This has led to the heightened popularity of Netflix Party, a chrome extension that allows users to livestream Netflix through a browser while chatting with friends, making sure everyone stays in sync with the same playback
There are so many moments we spend with our friends and family centered around digital spaces like watching TV and playing video games, and there is a huge opportunity to have these digitally-centered moments rely less on gathering in-person. While Netflix Party or games like Quiplash are digitally-enabling, their formats don't match the typical user flow of how a group of people gather around a digital experience. While there is current innovation in the space, it’s important to think really tactically about what devices people will be using and how that will pair with a social experience as well. Marrying the social, digital product, and the device in the right way to create remote social experiences is both a big opportunity and exciting challenge.
Staying In Shape
While the at-home workout industry has been around for decades, it’s now much more evolved than the Jane Fonda VHS tapes I used to do with my mom when I was a toddler. At-home fitness brands like Mirror and Peloton with digitally-enabled and metric-based hardware allow both class participation and two-way communication with instructors. While these are great, the high cost of buying single-purpose hardware (not to mention, where would you even put a Peloton bike in a New York City apartment?) is a high barrier to entry for the lay-user.
During these times of shelter-in-place, physical fitness providers have been turning to live-streaming their classes on IGTV, and while this is great at keeping a social following engaged and maintaining a brand presence, it feels less personal, and the accountability that you have when you’re physically in a room is very different than streaming through an app where you can drop off to send a text.
There is a need for distinctive and unique workouts that are made for at-home athletes that provide the feedback and accountability of showing up to SoulCycle without needing to buy an at-home gym. Nintendo released Ring Fit Adventure, their first workout game for the Switch, in October 2019, but it has been completely sold out everywhere since the pandemic broke out, and is now being marked up to 400% on eBay. The game is hugely successful as both a video game and a workout, which is exactly what we need from the fitness industry: products that feel like they’re made for a remote user — whether that’s the ability to share stats with a personal trainer while you work out “together,” or how to incorporate at-home supplies and furniture. Any new fitness product needs to understand the context in which it will be used — whether it’s on a TV screen in a living room, a personal training session at the gym, or a mobile phone in a park, the content and experience must be designed specifically for it.
There are so many industries prime for disruption and ready to be welcomed into peoples’ homes. In fact, the survival of many industries now depends on it. While it may seem that these products could be made and abandoned once there is a return to normalcy, there is always value in making more accessible products and there are always people who normally deal with shelter-in-place conditions outside of the pandemic. I can’t imagine we’ll get back to our “normal” lives without taking away some of the best of what we’ve learned, or even embracing how much fun we can have at home, together. There’s an untapped future industry in interconnectivity for social and lifestyle spaces, and I expect that it will grow, even after our social lives are restored.