Two images about one thing

Welcome to the future – nothing is different.


What, too soon?

Ladies & Gentlemen, The Gartner Hype Cycle.  I assume you can relate.


Defining Mobile

“Mobile is about the fluid use of voice, data, content, location in an intimate form factor that is, itself, a utility.” [I said that.]

Location Based Services: Not Just GPS & Foursquare

Here’s my talk at the SheSays event “Right Here Right Now” – the event was focused on Location Based Services. Our gracious hosts were Euro RSCG in New York, and the event took place on November 30, 2011.

My take was framed as “How to design for location” – which first of all called for a debunking of myths about mobile in general – what it is, how it’s used, who uses it – and of what both how LBS is served technologically and what ‘location’ means anyway.  There were two other excellent talks on the technology of location based services (by Lynn Fischer) and on the social meaning of location/the check-in (by Colleen DeCourcy).

Many thanks to Ale Lariu and SheSays for inviting me to participate. Here is the presentation for your perusing. Happy to answer questions in the comments.

Location Based Services: Not just GPS and Foursquare

NFC: The Future is Connected Objects

RFID tags have been embedded on products, inventory, and shipments thanks to the requirements of Walmart and the US military. Finally, mobile devices are becoming affordable readers of RFID tags thanks to NFC – near field communication. Google has experimented with it; Apple and other smartphone makers are integrating it in upcoming devices; and more potential uses are being found for it.

But what is it?

NFC enables the wireless transfer of data over short distances between two devices – think of the Bump app, only a little bit different (RFID instead of Bluetooth). In the words of the NFC Forum, “loosely coupled inductive circuits share power and data over a distance of a few centimeters.” (via Mashable).

You can receive or write data (tags), you can exchange data, or you can use the technology to emulate a card – say your MTA pass or Oyster card, or yes, your credit and debit cards.

This makes it extremely attractive to banks and merchants as a way of conducting small, in-person transactions for a very simple reason: the near-field requirement makes the transfer of data much more secure, and can therefore turn your smartphone into your wallet.

But mobile payments are not the only use of NFC technology and will be the subject of a separate post. For example, a company called Objec has developed a product line they describe as “Technology Enhanced Memorial Projects” and have dubbed it RosettaStone. They’re tagging gravestones with RFID chips and embedding additional content, an image, and a location ID to make it easier to find the memorial on a map. Setting aside the unfortunate graveyard metaphor, the possibilities for brands are exciting.

With this technology, conceivably, outdoor boards, posters, in-store signage, or transport platforms could be NFC tagged with all kinds of information: train schedules, store-finders for products featured in advertising, additional content related to the advertisement. There’s an obvious interest for marketers in the P2P swap of data – what an easy way to do lead generation! Tap your phone and we’ll give you something in exchange for your phone number or email address. Or better – imagine a shopping experience where you ‘scan’ items with your phone, add them to a virtual shopping cart, and check out on the mobile web without ever seeing a checkstand?

Perhaps even more exciting, in the read/write mode, is the possibility for people to share information back to the brand – tell a story about the location, review a restaurant, recommend an item. In fact, before Foursquare came along, some were working on NFC technology as a check-in method – integrating the additional features Foursquare has added could be a way to make this check-in seamless and attractive to people who are checking in less often.

Sarah Kessler wrote a great piece on Mashable on the ways that NFC could influence our daily lives. Everything from credit card payments to transit card swipes to social network check-ins to medical alert bracelets could be utterly transformed by the technology.

And in the area of social objects, there is enormous potential for new applications.

For example, Touchanote transforms objects like your couch or your desk into conduits to your Evernote content. Here’s how they explain it:

Meanwhile, The London History Museum have partnered with Nokia to install NFC tags to enable visitors to tap to join the museum, get vouchers for museum store discounts, buy tickets to special events, learn more about the exhibits, like objects on Facebook, or tweet about what they see.


While touring MoMA’s Talk To Me exhibition on social objects, I was reminded that the notion of RFID tagged objects for the purposes of creative expression isn’t new. What used to be known as locative media art has been explored by cyberpunk writers like Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. In 2004 at a SIGGRAPH conference, Bruce Sperling imagined the future of connected, tagged, social objects and even gave them a name: “Spimes”. A year later, his book, Shaping Things came out, describing “thinglinks” as another term for connected objects. In 2007, William Gibson described pre-iPhone augmented reality/RFID-triggered art and introduced millions to the notion of locative art, in his novel Spook Country.

Artists, as these writers noticed, have been playing with tags for the better part of the last decade. One reasonably fun example is iTea: it uses a projector, a tea cup, and an RFID tag to display all that Google knows about you. It essentially gossips on your behalf… about you.

But there are serious challenges to the adoption of this technology by brands and advertisers. One is that the technology, not unlike QR codes and augmented reality, are ambiguous – you can use them for truly anything. As a result, it’s hard to imagine the best use, and easy to imagine lots of mundane ones. And with RFID tags, there are real concerns for individuals about personal privacy, data security, and, more generally, tracking. The art world struggles with this ambiguity as much as any marketer. But at least they have a history of experimenting with the technology and its implications.

So – want to play around with NFC and see what you can do with it? There are plenty of kits and services out on the market. The RFID Mon Amour kit sells for €359. Not a tinkerer? Just design to order from Finnish web-to-print house, Tagage. Upload your designs on their website, and they’ll create posters, cards, tickets, and other printed materials employing NFC or 2D codes. In fact, why choose? Print a QR Code on the poster, embed an RFID chip in the back… hey presto! You’ve made a connected object.

Augmented Reality: Transformative or Transactional?

Augmented reality has been widely debated as an influential or useful technology in the mobile space. We’ve seen the technology teased in science fiction, whether as locative art, as in William Gibson’s Spook Country, or as the main interface with the ‘net in Minority Report.

Still, it hasn’t hit the mainstream. The technology exists, but we haven’t yet found the application that crosses the chasm.

Some brands are using the technology mainly for visualization, as in Lego’s use of AR to show you what the finished, assembled kit will look like. While it’s fun, and definitely adds a little pizazz to the in-store experience, it’s not really that different from… looking at the box.

But most brands haven’t gone much past playfulness and novelty as the main motivation for using AR. Lynx (Axe, in the US) used augmented reality to extend its “Fallen Angels” campaign into Victoria Station. It definitely generated some buzz, and people had fun playing with it.

Meanwhile, as in QR, augmented reality programmers and designers are seeking compelling new use cases viewed through the lens of art.

The See/k project is a good example of art students applying a more experiential element to what is, ostensibly, a simple commercial act – launching a new fragrance. But when imagined as the key to exploring and discovering the physical space of the brand, it adds a new dimension to a launch event that bridges the virtual and the real.

If this feels a bit beyond your ken, you can play with augmented reality art using the Konstruct app – you start with a standard 2D image, and then through the use of palettes and your voice, create 3D virtual sculptures on your iPhone.

But for brands, the secret to a smart use of AR seems to be found in the notion of adding real value to the mobile experience:

Bing, for example, demo’d some ideas for using augmented reality as part of its mapping engine. Integrating with geo-tagged images on Flickr, they can superimpose crowd-sourced imagery onto the location image, seamlessly integrating background scenery into the map. Going even further, they are mapping the interiors of public spaces and able to integrate live video from the location on the map. In essence, they’re finding ways to scrape any meta-data associated with the location to augment maps. It’s impressive, useful, and offers a deeper experience of a place whether you’re there or not.

The Word Lens app is another example of augmented reality aiding people in navigating spaces, though this time, from the perspective of language.

Of course, let’s not forget games. They can be a terrific way to explore augmented reality’s possibilities. One very exciting (for us Star Wars nerds) application is the Star Wars Arcade Falcon Gunner AR app. Just watch, you’ll want to download it and play ASAP. Who knows what ideas it might spark?

QR Codes: Over or just getting started?

We’re hearing a lot of talk about the lack of engagement with and slow adoption of QR codes. It’s said that people don’t want to capture a code only to be taken to the website, which shows them the same thing the ad is showing them. It’s also said that coupons & offers aren’t do their part in driving adoption. The conventional wisdom might have you believe it’s time to abandon the technology as a marketing tool.

But maybe we’re putting the cart before the horse.  The technology isn’t inherently interesting or engaging.  It’s only a tool for linking people to information or content.  Advertisers, so far, have been mainly delivering “junk mail” or the same content you’d get by visiting the brand’s site, often with substandard mobile design. They have not yet thought deeply about what the total engagement should be like – for one thing, they should not forget that the device that captures the code is likely to also be the device on which someone will experience the content – designing for that device is critical.  Happily, a few examples stand out.

This use of QR codes enables Korean Tesco customers to do their grocery shopping while waiting for the train. It doesn’t take you to a coupon for the product, or a link to the brand site – it’s the mechanism for adding products to your shopping cart. It references the in-store experience, but brings it to where people are, and gives them the opportunity to explore or to transact – this flexibility is one of most important benefits of any mobile experience. You can really do anything with a mobile device – so why limit it to the purely transactional? Impressive: true engagement, true utility, executed beautifully, in a highly relevant space. Check it out:

Sometimes, to understand the full possibilities of a technology, we need to see what artists have made of it. You can see this in the popularity of the Talk To Me exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, or the Cory Archangel show Pro Tools at the Whitney. You can also see how artists have interpreted the use of QR codes in interactive graffiti, encouraging you to engage with the art on the wall, and get more than the visual experience, as in this example:

If you could put QR Codes to work for the brands you influence through either of these filters – true utility or active, artistic engagement (or both!) what would you do?

From Neo to Trinity: The Matrix Reinvented

NOTE: to attend this event you must purchase passes and register with FutureM here:

Clay Shirky believes that mobile phones + access to the internet + free time = ‘cognitive surplus’ – the title of his latest book. (Don’t know who Clay Shirky is? Google him NOW and read ‘Cognitive Surplus’ forthwith. You’ll thank us.)

This exponential acceleration in cognitive surplus brought on by connected mobile devices is changing our culture and our expectations – for media, for marketing, for products and services, for shopping, for entertainment, for connection.

This change means a few very important things: WHAT mobile can do and HOW people use it demands a completely new approach to designing digital and social experiences and the abandonment of some of our old habits; WHO uses mobile technology is rapidly changing beyond the early adopters (we’re way past that now!), the tech enthusiasts, the stereotypical young adult male who loves gadgets – forcing us to reappraise who we design these new digital and social experiences for and open up our clients to new prospects and previously underserved customers.

Mobile is bridging the divide between many different digital divides – users v makers, men v women, young v old, rich v poor, etc. We want to accelerate this change within our industry by:

  1. Illustrating how these divides melt away with mobile technology
  2. Engaging thought leaders and emerging talent (that is – YOU!) in a ‘status quo hackathon’, where we’ll be asking you to reimagine brands, products or services for an underserved audience, using every mobile tech means at our disposal (QR codes, NFC, apps, geofencing, mobile social, ARG, wi-fi connected objects, location-based services, etc.)

Who’s we?

  • Farrah Bostic, digital strategist, advocate for #LeanPlanning, and founder of creative strategy consultancy Near Future Media with a background that includes Wieden, TBWA\Chiat\Day, Hall & Partners, OTX Research and Digitas;
  • Brenna Hanly, connections planner and mobile catalyst at Mullen, evangelist of all things emerging media and named one of Mobile Marketer’s Mobile Women to Watch 2011; and
  • Cindy Gallop, 2003 Advertising Woman of the Year and founder of BBH New York, now the founder & CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn.

So if you’re up for a hands-on, blow shit up, hack the status quo, subvert a world where the default setting is always young, white, techie, and male, and reinvent the Matrix to be as much about Trinity as it is about Neo – you’re not gonna want to miss this one. Sign up NOW… and debate with Cindy why Clay Shirky never mentions anywhere in his book the spectacular amount of cognitive surplus that’s spent on watching online porn.

NOTE: to attend this event you must purchase passes and register with FutureM here:

The official site for “From Neo to Trinity: The Matrix Reinvented” at FutureM 2011

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