Check In Where You’ll Be In The Future. Not Where You Are.

Here’s an interesting interview by Robert Scoble with Ditto’s founder Jyri Engestrom. Ditto is like Foursquare for the future. You “check in” to where you’ll be. This lets you do a variety of things, including letting people know where you are headed, so they can meet you there. It also lets you start conversations about what you’ll be doing later today. As an early adopter and long-time fan of Foursquare, the following quote from Jyri’s interview struck me as right on the money. He focuses in on the importance of shifting the moment you check in to before you’ve even left, precisely when interactions with the application that lead to discovery are most useful and have the most potential for changing your behavior. Noodle this…

“What I think makes this more useful than Foursquare is that you’re actually catching people at the decision point before they’ve already settled down, because with Foursquare I usually check in once I’ve already sat down, I’ve ordered my latte, I’m at Kuppa Cafe and I’m, like, I should check in on Foursquare, and then I get a special nearby. What are the chances at that point of me getting up and walking across the street? They’re very low. Whereas this is more about “I don’t know where I’m going yet. I havent decided yet. If you can catch people at that decision point, and then spread it not just for location but do it for movies, do it for music, do it for all different categories of social objects, in my mind that’s going to be a huge hit”

Maps, Meta data and Augmented Reality

“All of our devices – our mobile phones, cameras, toys and media players – will become increasingly aware of where we are. Soon, geographical location, rather than broadcast schedules, will trigger entertainment experiences. Content will be tagged to places, and these will alert you to the proximity of your friends and people of similar interests”Mike Walsh, Author of Futuretainment

The way we experience the web is moving quickly towards a standard where content is not linear, but relative. When content is linear, one piece of content leads us to another. But when the model is relative, any piece of content can be accessed via contextual triggers anywhere, any time and on any device.

Location is going to be a primary trigger that changes how we experience web content. In fact, it wont be long before a lot of the content that exists on the web will also exist as overlays to our senses as we move through the real world. Sound crazy? It’s not. It’s what the augmented reality movement is all about, and it’s coming fast.

A few days ago at TED, Bing engineers demonstrated that they are going way beyond Google’s Street View technology, using backpack cameras to capture pedestrian spaces, Flickr integration to provide a more diverse picture of a place over time, telescope data to allow people to get information on celestial bodies, and live video to show what’s happening in a place in real time. It’s pretty incredible.  If you’re not impressed by this 6 minute demo, I’d take a moment to chew on what you’re seeing for a second, and consider for a second how evolved this still-young this technology is…

What Does This Mean For Us and The Web?

Well, first of all, putting content into context this way gives an unprecedented level of depth of information and understanding about place and our relationship to it. As Blaise Aguera y Arcas told Fast Company in a recent interview

If you want to explore, if you want to really understand more about a place, you really need to be able to get right down in there, and see if from the point of view that people actually experience it. As great as it is to use cameras on top of cars for building that visual trellis, that’s not the actual human perspective.”

With a layer of user generated content on top of maps we can look around and explore where we are with a completely new set of lenses.

  • It’ll be social – other people’s photos and videos will give us a unique perspective of the history and social context of where we are,
  • It’ll be personal – Our own location-tagged photos, videos and content can allow us to relive moments when we visit places that are meaningful to us.
  • It’ll be educational – instead of having to read and learn in a linear way, you’ll be able to put yourself at the center of the action, in context of place (and eventually time).

Most importantly, the rise of the Geoweb will open up completely new categories for business and innovation. It’s not hard to imagine a variety of commercial applications for virtual augmented reality tours or rich entertainment, educational and social experiences. With consumers rushing to buy location-aware smart phones, expect to see a lot of movement in the mobile market for these types of experiences in the next few years. Exciting stuff.

Making Maps To Fight Disaster & Build Economies

Did you know that as of 2005, only 15 percent of the world was mapped? Google’s Lalitesh Katragadda thinks we can do better. Not having detailed maps in the developing world slows the delivery of aid after a disaster and hides the economic potential of unused lands and unknown roads. Said another way, access to better information yields better results and vice versa, especially when the timeliness of that information is critical. In the short talk below, Lalitesh demos Map Maker, a group map-making tool that people around the globe are using to map their world. Inspiring stuff that highlights just one more instance where individuals can use technology to better the world and make a difference.

Also, for those of you interested, Fast company wrote a great piece a few days ago on how critical Google Maps were to the aid effort in Haiti last week and put up a slide show of how Google maps could be used to gather information in the midst of the crisis.

What Would Proximity Sensors Do For The Mobile Web?

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Our dumb web is getting smarter. It already knows who you are and who you know, and it won’t be long before it will be able to leverage those connections on your behalf wherever you go. Our mobile devices are already being outfitted with sensors of all types. There are currently two common scenarios for sensors + mobile phones:

1) Everyday objects with sensors pumping out data on things like temperature, noise and activity; the mobile phone reads and analyzes this data.

2) The phone is used as a sensor itself. For example the iPhone has a built-in accelerometer, which is basically a motion detector. This is used for game control and also for re-sizing your iPhone display from portrait to landscape. The iPhone also has a microphone (which can be used as a noise sensor), a proximity sensor, and an ambient light sensor.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/raneko/3971359430/

We’re starting to see GPS-based Geosocial networking services like Whrrl, Loopt, and Hotlist gain some ground, but I’m really interested to see what will happen when mobile devices are embedded with proximity sensors (i.e. when the mobile device gets close to another short range sensor, data is shared). It may never happen, but I think it’s a great idea because, while GPS based social networking works for people who know each other, it doesn’t work for sharing contextual relationship data between a person and an object or an organization. You could imagine many of different/unique use cases based on foot traffic for business and being social…

New Kinds Of Retail and Restaurant Loyalty Programs

What if  a store or restaurant had it’s own short range sensor that knew when you walked in the door and alerted the sales staff about your sales history and personal shopping preferences? What if you were fed instant information on in-store sales based on your favorite items or wish lists? How would any of this change your relationship with your favorite venues?

Enabling The Smart Home

What if your home automatically knew your preferences for lighting, music, air temperature etc and automatically adjusted the environment and your devices as you walked from room to room?

Navigating People & Businesses

What if you were at a conference and you’re in a crowd of people. Would it be useful if your device could tell you when you last saw a person you’re about to run into, or that six steps behind you is someone you went to high school with? What if it could tell you that the product that’s being sold at the store you’re passing is on sale at another store in the same area? The web knows these things, we just don’t have a useful way to get that information automatically fed to us when we’re on the go.

Why Mobile Devices?

Using the phone as a sensor (instead of an embedded RFID chip in our skin, for example) seems like a logical next step for these types of applications because it makes participation optional and manual. It might seem whacky now, but you’d probably be surprised how many people would be on board if the the privacy-to-utility ratio was right.

What are your thoughts on this? Too far out there, or is it where we’re headed?

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Here Come The GeoWeb Wars

around meOne of the very first apps I downloaded on the iPhone was Around Me, and it’s still one of my go-to’s. It’s simple and it does exactly what the name implies – it finds your location and shows you all the critical services around you — banks, coffee shops, bars, gas stations, hospitals, movie theaters, restaurants and so on. It comes through in the clutch whenever I’m in an area that I don’t know well, which makes it an indispensable travel tool. It makes you a local expert in less than a few minutes. At a conference in a new city and want coffee? Instead of wasting time asking strangers, you’re already on your way to the Starbucks that’s around the corner, exactly 119 yards away. Need an ATM? Gas? Medication at a pharmacy? Hungry and want to know what your meal options are in a 2-3 block radius? You get the picture. The app orders the services by their proximity to you and gives you quick access to mapped directions, and touch-to-call phone info. The latest release also includes Twitter and Facebook integration so you can share the location of meeting spots or recommendations etc with your friends. Enough said. For this app alone, it’s worth moving to an iPhone.

Here’s a quick video overview of what the app does.

Expect Competition For Geolocation Services To Heat Up This Year

There have been a lot of apps like Around Me to hit mobile devices over the past 12 months. Google (of course) is the sleeping giant for geoweb services and they’ve started to release location based offerings this week that will start to challenge the space and put the squeeze on smaller players. Last week Google announced a mobile search service called “Near Me Now” that makes their mobile search page location aware, giving mobile users access to a lot of the same type of information that apps like Around Me do.

Yesterday, Google also announced Place Pages targeting local businesses, which many believe is another maneuver meant to dethrone Yelp as the de facto resource for local venue information and customer review data. We’ll see how this one plays out. You can expect a lot of me-too players to show up very soon, so it’ll be interesting to see how (if at all) Google innovates and sets the pace. As the web gets denser and geo tagging scales up to put all the data into context, there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for innovation across the board, so we can only hope for startups to think way outside the box and give us all things we’ve never seen before. I know one thing – access to location information and maps on my iPhone has turned me into a heavy user of geoweb services in my daily life and I’m itching to see what’s coming. The war is on.