Tag Archives: LBS

Location Based Services

Andrew Mason’s Detour

It’s been a while since I got excited about a new app but today’s news about Detour got the old wheels spinning again as I dug in to learn more about it and started thinking about the potential it unlocks . But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Detour splashed into the world today across all the usual places, TechCrunch, re/code, and The Verge. If you haven’t heard about Detour, pick your favorite outlet above to read up on the basics.

Andrew’s personal blog post about the genesis of Detour is more interesting. The combination of audio as a soundtrack to the physical world has always fascinated me. Ever since I got my first Sony Walkman, I would imagine songs that went with certain bike rides. Every time I hear The Sundays I think of my ride through the rice fields of Shikoku and certain Pearl Jam tracks remind me of epic back country snowboarding runs in Hokkaido.

Back when podcasting started to be a thing, I stumbled across Richard Miller’s excellent Sparkletack series that effectively transported you back in time to old San Francisco. His story about Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini belting out an aria to the huddled, post-earthquake masses on Market Street to lift their spirits is storytelling elevated to a fine art.

I even made a few crude attempts at storytelling using Moby’s Stella Maris as a soundtrack to an album of photos from two years in Finland and, more recently, juxtaposing old photos of streetcars in Alameda against more recent photos as method of time travel.

The potential of using portable audio to tell a story has been around for a while. Museums often give out audio handsets to tell the story behind their exhibits. I read once of an activist group that published an hour long podcast that navigated you through a Wal-Mart (each store’s layout is conveniently the same) and told the story about the factories where each of their popular clothes lines were manufactured. The impact of such audio tours can be quite powerful.

Detour looks to be a publishing platform that puts this kind of storytelling within grasp of anyone. The stories will be curated to keep the quality high and, in the interviews, Andrew talks about making each tour available for purchase which will allow composers to get paid for their work. The output looks slick.

What gets me really excited is that after digging around their wiki you can see that some real thought has gone into guiding people on how to create high quality tours.

Move them around a bit – tell them to stand in different locations in the same 50 foot area. Point out different things to look at and do. (eg – Don’t ask your listeners to stand in front of the Arbol de Tule, while you describe it. Ask them to walk around it. Draw their attention to different aspects.)

There are references in the wiki to Descript, the authoring platform for Detour, which helps set the pacing for the tours. I’m on the wait list for the app and hope to get an invite soon so I can experience a few of these tours but I already know that I’m going to enjoy it and can’t wait to get involved.

descript

Further Reading

 

 

Object Trackers – Two Approaches

Nokia announced, the Treasure Tag, new hardware to go with their Lumia phones sporting the latest update. The tag is a small piece of hardware that communicates with the phone via bluetooth and an app on the phone that monitors proximity, alerting you when the device falls out of bluetooth range from your phone. Until you turn it off (which you can do via the app) the connection between the phone and a paired Treasure Tag is constantly monitored. Nokia says a battery can keep the Tag running for up to six months.

Each phone can support up to four Treasure Tags. The idea is that you attach a tag to something you want to have close-by. Keys, purse, whatever.

The Nokia Treasure Tag app description mentions that you can use, “Audio alerts to find a tag, or a tag to find your phone” but I’m not clear on how a phone can activate the audio on a tag or visa versa if either is out of bluetooth range.

Nokia Treasure Tag

What would be cool is if the Treasure Tag could broadcast GPS coordinates much like an iPad or iPhone can when you activate the Find My iPhone feature on iCloud. Unfortunately, such functionality would be cost & power prohibitive on such a small device that retails for $30. As a work around, the Treasure Tile can put a pin on a map and show you where it last had a connection with it’s phone. Useful if you misplaced an object but useless if someone’s walked off with your purse.

Tile

The Tile is taking a different approach. Instead of looking for a paired device, the Tile can pair with any device running the Tile app. For example, if someone’s walked off with your bag and ends up at a party where someone else is running the Tile app, their app will send time and location of that occurrence from their phone to yours via their phone’s GPS. This is, of course, useless again if the thief discovers the Tile and throws it in the trash but the approach is innovative in its crowdsourced approach. There needs to be a critical mass of people running the Tile app for it to be truly effective but one can imagine the Tile being able to tie into the iOS Beacon sensors in every iPhone & iPad as a quick way to get to scale.

The Tile is also different is a couple of other ways. There is no replaceable battery. A tile lasts for a year, then you replace it. It also features a, “where you last saw it” function that pushes a pin into a map so you can figure out where to begin your search. There is also an audio signal that you can activate to find a Tile that might be hidden under your sofa cushions or in your laundry. Finally, there is an on-screen feature on the app that gives an indicator when you are getting closer or further away from an item when you’re within 150-50 feet of the item.

Tile Getting Warmer

I’m not sure which approach wins here. The goal is to sell a small accessory that you can attach to an object that lets you keep track of an locate it. Each has its own strengths but my gut tells me that form factor is pretty important. If the prime use case is attaching a sensor to your keys, wallet, (or, as my daughter said, television remote), size is pretty important. While the Tile wins on size, it’s unfortunate that you have to landfill the tag every year and would keep me from buying a set.

Facebook Find Friends Nearby

UPDATE: Looks like the feature got pulled offline. Wonder if the legal department got involved.

Some are calling Facebook’s new Find Friends Nearby feature (turned on just this weekend) as a Highlight-killer. Maybe so but that’s only if you keep the app on the FFN page at all times. It doesn’t track your location in the background.

 

The real feature is that it helps tighten up your social graph, turning those chance friendships into Facebook friends.

The feature is incredibly convenient if you happen to be chatting with someone in person and want to add him as a Facebook friend. Rather than tapping out his name and wasting minutes scrolling through a list of similarly named individuals, you can just ask your new pal to open up the Find Friends Nearby page and add him with a quick tap.

Rosa Golijan

To find this new feature on Facebook’s iOS and Android apps,  go to the main menu > apps > find friends > other tools > Find Friends Nearby. You can also find it on the mobile website, m.facebook.com

Location-based DRM

Reading news of the Loopt acquisition this morning got me thinking. What if someone were to build a service that would check your location and use it as a way to unlock content that would normally sit behind a paywall? Here are a couple of the use case.

Starbucks could do a deal with the Wall Street Journal or New York Times and sponsor free reading when you are within range of a Starbucks. If you check in to pass your location or attach to their wifi then all access will go direct instead of via the paywall. Or maybe the publisher asks for an email address for access and then Starbucks and the publisher can do a revenue share on new subscriber revenue.

Nintendo fans using free wifi outside a store in Tokyo. Stores sponsor free game characters that can only be downloaded from the store's wifi.

This location-based DRM could extend to any publisher:

  • Games that you can only play while you are within a store as a way to trial the experience or enhance existing games.
  • Music that you can sample via Spotify while you are shopping at Target.
  • Apps that can only be downloaded from specific stores.
eBay has some pieces of the puzzle with the combination of PayPal and Where. Match this with Where’s patent on geo-fencing and you have a nice suite of solutions that could build a platform that any publisher could plug into.

Microsoft has a specific patent for Location Based Licensing, I wonder if they’ll ever use it?

People Discovery Apps, a Cautionary Tale

This was the weekend everyone signed up and joined Highlight or Glancee. TechCrunch has written about it and Robert Scoble has been going on about how viral these location-based services are. No doubt about it, these new apps which run in the background on your phone and let you know when someone you know (or might like to know) in in your proximity, are going to be all the rage at SouthbySouthwest.

If you don’t know the details of how these services work, read Scoble’s review (The Two Hottest Apps You’ll “Run Into” at SXSW) where he goes into depth on both Highlight and Glancee. These “people discovery apps” (Scoble’s term) have been around before (Sonar and Loopt to name a few) but I would agree with Scoble that the timing is right this year for the early-adopter types descending on Austin next week to take these services to the next level.

 

I’ve been using both apps for a few weeks and can see how they could be useful while travelling and open to meeting new people. They are especially powerful when there is a compelling reason driving you to make new connections. Trade shows and conferences are a prime venue for this behavior. This was what was on my mind when I was with the MyBlogLog team and we developed our own version of the people discovery app to show off our API at an O’Reilly eTech conference in 2008.

You can read about “Meetspace” on TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb. It was a small java app that ran on a Blackberry or laptop. It was tied to your YahooID and would pop-up a little notification that another MyBlogLog user was nearby. As Highlight does today, we added a feature that would compare your  profile interests with the other person’s and give you shared interests (“talking points“)  that you could use to strike up a conversation.

Because Meetspace used bluetooth, not GPS, to detect proximity, the range was shorter compared to Highlight and Glancee. This worked to our advantage because, at the conference where we released the app, it allowed us to track when you were in the same room as someone as opposed to in the same general area. We kept a running log of the total time spend in the proximity of others and let users see who they spend the most time with over the course of the conference which usually meant they were the people attending the same tracks as you. Combined that with basic details of their company and interests and you had quite a powerful social networking tool.

Now for the cautionary tale. Meetspace was launched as an experiment. It was designed to show what you could do with the MyBlogLog API and while we didn’t plan on it being a new feature, we thought it might be an interesting way to bring the virtual social network into the physical world if it caught on.

It never had a chance.

Shortly after the eTech conference I received a call from the legal department at Yahoo. I forgot who was on the phone but he basically opened the call with, “You are going to shut Meetspace down, right?” as if it was beyond debate. I gave him my arguments for why we should let it run, (it was opt-in, it was innovative, it helped demonstrate our API) but all this fell on deaf ears.

The trump argument by legal was that if anyone were to be harmed in any way, and if the police were to require discovery to see if anyone else were around while harm was being done, the police could use the Meetspace app as reason to require Yahoo to turn over their user logs. Yahoo did not want to run the risk of having to turn over these logs to the police. End of story. Game over.

Hopefully it’ll be different for Hightlight and Glancee this time around.

Douglas Adams on Location-Based Services

Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, spoke to a room full of telecom executives in 2001 and in the middle of pleading with them to improve the call quality along the 101 freeway near his home in Santa Barbara, California, he also included this nugget describing a world that is just starting to be realized in 2011.

The one thing I did get right when I came up with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was that it would know where you were and come up with information appropriately, and that of course is the thing that makes the crucial difference to everything in that list above. If every piece of information knew the when of itself and the where of itself, so that the virtual world we created fitted over the real world like an invisible glove, and these devices, which we currently think of as telephones or PDA’s, would be the devices that made that invisible world visible to us. The things which both generate the model and make it appear to us, they become windows from the real world into the virtual world which is everywhere around us.

Of course they won’t be like this, these are just telephones with bits added on, one wire taken away and a few more added to it.

Douglas Adams speech to Mobile World Congress, February 21, 2001

The main use case for Foursquare beyond telling people which office I’m working in for the day is to check the Tips section for a venue to see what the dishes are recommended at a restaurant or sights to see at a museum. Augmenting the physical world with location-specific media is the next big trend. Color.com is doing it with photos. Who will do it with music, who will do it with video, who will do it with links?