Is your online life merging with your dog’s?
A friend sent me a link the other day to the Foursquare blog that had a post about an ad by a German dog food manufacturer. The company had used Foursquare’s (a popular location-based social application) platform to create a billboard that dispenses your dog a treat if you check-in to it. This is a fun idea and a great ad, but it got me thinking about deeper issues around how technology is integrating into not only our lives but those of our pets.
Regardless of how much you understand the workings behind online services they are probably now part of your everyday life. Most people these days seem to have a Facebook page or a Twitter account that allows them to participate in online social spaces. But now many people have Facebook and Twitter pages for their pets as well. Mark Zuckerberg — creator of Facebook — recently brought home a new puppy called Beast who, of course, now has his own Facebook page. And 92,494+ friends! But that’s nothing compared to Boo the Pomeranian who loves Oprah and wearing T-shirts. Boo is a Facebook phenomenon and at last count had 1,016,955 friends. Using these platforms for us to communicate through our pets and sometimes as our pets is becoming more commonplace.
There are also many social networks designed specifically for pets and their owners including the original Dogster and Catster that allows you to build a profile page for your pet and make friends with other dogs and cats within the network. There are more location specific websites like Dogtree that allow dog owners to find playmates, arrange dog sitting or simply meet new dogs living nearby. The most recent releases in this pet social network area are also starting to have elements related to coupons and group shopping, like the newly released Pawsley — a social networking and social shopping experiment that allows dog owners to connect, share, and shop.
While on the surface these uses of technology may seem frivolous to some, I think they play a valuable part in the way that we socialise online; our dogs provide us with another way to create meaningful connections within our community. Whether it be just for entertainment or as a valuable way of gathering information.
Social networks themselves also highlight the broad spectrum of uses that technology can be put to. While my dogs are underprivileged and don’t have their own pages, I do have a Facebook page for Puppy Tales that is incredibly useful for connecting to other dog-lovers, dog businesses, dog charities and a few dogs themselves.
Personally, having worked on the web for many years I enjoy these new developments that allow us to learn, connect and teach others about our pets and animals. For example, now more than ever:
- I understand the work animal charities are doing through their Facebook and Twitter updates and I provide them with more support through engagement and donations than I have previously.
- I stay across pet related products and services that I otherwise would have been unaware of, from toys through to vet treatments.
- I am able to find parks and dog facilities in my local area (or places unfamiliar to me) by using web and mobile applications.
However, I am looking forward to more datasets and applications becoming available that benefit animals and the community at large. Recently, I was lucky enough to participate in a web development event with an open community approach called apps4nsw Day. The event — run by Web Directions — was an opportunity for web folk to take NSW Government Data and create practical, engaging and easy to use applications. One of the data sets released on the day was a subset of the NSW Companion Animal Register that contained information such as postcodes, dog names and breeds. Many teams chose to work with this data and a number of applications and great ideas came out of it. It is this type of work that I think will bring greater benefits to our pets in the future and allow us to include them in our communities. Such technology could, for example, encourage more people to register and desex their pets or more readily access online veterinary services.
While writing this whole post I couldn’t get that classic New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner out of my mind: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”. This is even more true today, and maybe it doesn’t matter that you are!