Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Cell 3.0

Current wisdom suggests that blogs are much like fences: the best supported of each has frequent posts at regular intervals. We confess that the interests of Team Mambo have recently been focused on other creative endeavors, one of which is the indulgence noted in the sidebar, KultureKat. Yet it has been too long since our last post and for this we apologize to our regular readers who make up in patience what they lack in numbers.

Prologue

Many years ago while at university I had my first experience with cell phone technology. I was sitting for an economics exam when beeping interrupted the painful silence. A student stood up embarrassed and apologized for the distraction. He pulled an early cell phone from a small duffel, extended an antenna that could equally serve the role of a fly rod, and lifted the device, the size of a box of breakfast cereal, to the side of his head. In that odd twist of behavior that has been repeated every second of every day since, he said “Hello” as he left the room.

The image to the right, from the 1987 movie Wall Street reminds us of what the early cell phone looked like.

Los Mambos share a strain of Ludditism. It may stem from our generational position astride a technology canyon: one foot confidently planted in the “what was”, the other tenuously on the “will be” in a posture of awkward balance.

Of course we have long since succumbed, and always several beats behind the cultural heart, do not yet feel the cellular chafing felt by others. We share the sentiment of fifty-one percent of respondents to a recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project who also agree that “it would be very hard to give up my cell phone”. This same sentiment was held by 38% of respondents in 2002.

These numbers have lately distracted us from the seasonal change of colors that may be a better use of our attention during our morning walks. And these numbers are in reality insignificant data pixels only beginning to suggest the much bigger image of the relationship we’ll have with our cell phones in the relatively near future. In this dance of technology and humanity, will we lead the evolution of the technology or will technology, as it sometime does, lead us to evolve?

Click, Send, 6

On a recent visit to a bookstore during which I had more time than money, I came across a book “Reframing Organizations” that I would love to read. But with a rare display of delayed gratification that should be much more frequent given my years, I kept my credit card in my wallet and instead clicked a picture of the cover with my camera phone, then hit “send” and “6”. Book browsing had finished for the day.

“6” on my simple cell phone is the speed dial number for Evernote. Evernote is an application that I’ve stumbled across which seems to be a favorite of those more technologically savvy than myself. For me, Evernote is a metaphor, a replacement for a behavior previously associated with the back of receipts, torn napkins, or at best, a post-it. By pressing “6”, I sent the image of the book cover to my (free) internet account at Evernote. The image is stored alongside another image of a poster describing a class that I think may be of interest to my son, Tito junior, and images of other books that yes, I will buy and read someday. I swear.

Of course this effect could be accomplished by sending the image to my email account, except for two important differences. First, Evernote processes each image with character-reading software that makes these images searchable (enter “Organization” and “search”). Second, the information is stored on Evernote’s own servers, making it available to me wherever I have access to the internet. If I had a moment at “the office” and decided to take the opportunity to purchase that book—Oh, who was that author?—or more responsibly if the thought occurred to me while at the public library, I could access the information and act.

Evernote can capture other types of information as well. You can clip portions of web pages, type yourself a note, or store a recording. Thus the basis of its slogan: Remember Everything.

Evernote took a very big step recently and released their service API, which allows any programmer to develop an application extending the functionality of Evernote or allowing it to interact with other programs.

But for the purposes of this post, what’s important about Evernote isn’t Evernote. It’s the click, send, 6, on the cell phone, the simplicity of the act, its effortlessness, its thoughtless use of technology, not for the pleasure of technology, but for a very everyday purpose. Most importantly click, send, 6 is a small act of revolution, albeit without clenched fists punching the air. For with click, send, 6 I rip through the membrane that had previously demarcated the real and the virtual worlds.

Web 1.0, 2.0…

Who was the first person to refer to the great conflict of the early 1940’s as the Second World War? How long did it take for someone to then re-reference that conflict of the 1910’s as World War One? How long before the human capacity for extrapolation, for the leap from implication to expectation, created an assumed inevitability for World War Three?

At the 2004 O’Reilly Media Conference, a group of attendees conspired to give definition to a word that was then in use informally, Web 2.0. Until that moment the term had no clear meaning, but was useful as a way to refer to the “will be” and distinguish it from the “what was” of the internet. No one created Web 2.0--that was and is the result of a collection of individual efforts--but by giving it a conceptual structure, the attendees encouraged all to shift their weight to that side of the web canyon.

We seem to use the term Web 2.0 so freely that surely we all understand what it means. We discuss Wiki’s and blogs and RSS and Ajax and envy those kids who made fortunes with MySpace and YouTube and Wikipedia (oh that’s right: the latter wasn’t started by a kid and doesn’t make money. Hmm…)

To us at marketmambo, we subdue this conflagration by thinking of Web 1.0 as that wonderful method for distributing static pages of information, pre-bound into websites, Call it the Gutenberg Web, for in many ways the web fulfills the imperative of the printing press, cheaply distributing information, letting it run free or freely off the leash, and stretching a common culture beyond the light of our campfires.

Web 2.0 allows the users of the web to create and distribute information according to their own interests and passions. This web becomes the cave wall, waiting for the application of charcoal and iron oxide in the shape of a stag. It’s the mimeo machine that allows us each to be a pamphleteer. It’s the building wall covered with graffiti, where once the billboard hung.

Oh, for a remedy that calms the mania of metaphors.

And such a long route to get to our original question, for to us, the question of “wither the cellphone?” must somehow be held in our brains along side “wither the web?”

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

Walk through the streets of New York or Seattle or most other US cities and you may still find, on a sidewalk or lamppost, written and underlined in blue marker or paint, a dangling word devoid of context: “high” or sky” or some meaningless string of letters. You’ve just stumbled upon a remnant of Grafedia.

John Geraci was a graduate student in New York a few years ago. He was fascinated by the use of technology which could enable people to create their own sense of community. And his focus wasn’t some everywhere-and-nowhere community such as a blog or a wiki, but a community built around very specific geographic locations. He had just finished his first effort, NeighborNode, which provided free internet access to neighborhoods that was accessed through a home page created and maintained by the residents.

Geraci began Grafedia in 2005 as a way for people to leave little “public messages” for others. If we were walking along a street, and were in someway struck by a thought relevant to that spot, we could text a message, or send an image or sound file to “high” or “sky” or any other word we chose, to grafedia.net. Write your word in blue on a lamppost, napkin or cigarette butt (yes it was done) and leave it behind. Come across one of these blue underlined words? Send a text message from your cell phone to high@grafedia.net and retrieve the message, this thought that had occurred to someone else at some other time in this place you’re now standing. Think of Grafedia as a digital message in a bottle.

A similar project began in New York about the same time. Yellow Arrow also provided links that users could post at points of their interest, though in this case, on yellow arrows. While Grafedia was typically used by individuals to tag one specific location, Yellow Arrow was often used by small groups to string together several locations tied by a theme, such as places important to the development of hardcore punk in Washington, DC.



Both Grafedia and Yellow Arrow have closed up shop, each satisfied that they’ve fulfilled the goals of their project. Other projects are ongoing. [murmur] is a project in Canada that posts telephone numbers around cities at which people can leave voice messages. At Semapedia.org you can create stickers with “2d” barcodes that provide links to a Wikipedia article about a location or something interesting that happened there. If you find one of these barcodes, aim your camera phone at it, click, send, and learn the significance of your location.

Feels a little like Evernote, doesn’t it?

Scanbuy

A-hem. Uh, yes, 2d barcode. Back in the 1950’s when the first patent was filed for the barcode, the “bar” was actually a set of concentric circles. In the ‘70’s as the barcode began its march to universal adoption, the code became the parallel lines --1d -- we now see everyday. 2d codes are simply a square composed of smaller squares, some black, some white, that make us think of a crossword puzzle.

While our eyes have no problem reading a yellow arrow on a lamppost or blue underlined words on a cigarette, our phones are not nearly as capable. But they have no trouble making sense of 2d barcodes. If your phone has a camera and the necessary software, these codes can automatically and near instantly deliver information to your phone.

Semacode is a company in Ontario, Canada that creates and markets 2d barcodes for personal use. At their website you can create your own code to print on your business card (or any other surface). Pass it off to a new friend and with a click of their camera phone they have your contact information, and if you like, are immediately taken to your facebook page.

And now to Scanbuy. Scanbuy is the company that is most likely to bring these 2d barcodes into commercial application in the US.

Earlier this year, at the change of the previous season, we at marketmambo had the pleasure of speaking about technology at a marketing conference. We covered many examples, one of which was Scanbuy. To our surprise, we were contacted by Jonathan Bulkeley, the CEO of the company, who offered us a chat. Mr. Bulkeley was generous with his time, but the one point which captured our imagination was his assessment of the challenge to his company. Success for this technology would require the cooperation of marketers, cellphone manufacturers, and ultimately those consumers sneaking up, unaware, to the next technology canyon. And the problem is that for each of the parties, the value to them, of adoption, is related to how many of the other two parties have chosen to adopt. Why put the software in the cellphone if marketers aren’t behind it. Why use these 2d barcodes for marketing if consumers don’t understand them? You can do the rest of the combinations. Kind of a digital chicken and egg.

Please be patient for a brief aside. While we appreciate the time that Mr. Bulkeley shared with us, we applaud his gesture. Marketmambo acknowledges its place in the ranks of the insignificanti, yet Mr. Bulkeley understands that that e-chatter adds up and has decided to participate. Kudos to Mr. Bulkeley and a lesson to others.

Well, Scanbuy’s chickens and eggs (yikes) seem to be lining up. Earlier this year several magazines began testing EZcodes (what Scanbuy calls their 2d barcodes) in their books. If you see an EZcode in an ad in Car and Driver, click an image of it with your camera phone (loaded with the Scanbuy software, called ScanLife) and you’re taken to a microsite with images and reviews of the car. Find one of these codes in Billboard and you’re a click away from their Top 10 list and links to purchase music. Sears has also decided to participate in a test.



The real coup for Scanbuy (or should we say coop?) came with the announcement last week that Samsung will pre-load the Scanbuy software into their cellphones.

Much has happened in the past year to advance the adoption of Scanbuy, and much of it has still escaped the attention of marketers, who are so frozen with technological vertigo that they avoid raising their eyes to the opposite canyon wall. Friends of marketmambo can point their browsers at Scanbuy to learn much, much more.

But the real question for marketmambo and Scanbuy is whether the average citizen -- not the geeks at CNET, or Gizmodo, or Ars Technica, but the Luddites like ourselves who were reluctantly dragged into the wireless world, who didn’t care if their handset could take pictures, who, though unsure, think that SMS might just be the new distress call – will falter when faced with the chance to take the leap.

…3.0

Just as these same average citizens are becoming fluent in the language of Web 2.0, those responsible for such things have moved on to Web 3.0. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus as to what this new version of the web will look like, but there are a few common themes shared by the competing visions.

Tim Berners-Lee, the person most often credited with creating the initial incarnation of the web foresees Web 3.0 as the “semantic web”. While the current web is great at presenting individual pages in a format readable by humans, it is incapable of drawing data across these pages together based on the meaning of the information. If you want to learn the meaning of “love”, a search engine can help you find web pages which contain the word, but will ignore all those pages of poetry that explore the concept without using the word. More prosaically, if you want to better understand the relationship between weather and baseball scores you could get both by city, but you yourself would need to put pen to paper to combine the two. The web would be no help.

We at marketmambo readily admit that we don’t really understand the concept of the “semantic web”. Our best hope is that we can successfully parrot the words of others. What seems to be clear to us is that at the moment, no one has a clue as to how the semantic web can soon become a reality.

Another theme shared by the many visions for Web 3.0 is “object hyperlinking”, the ability to link the web to the real world, allowing information to be shared between the two with minimal intervention by people. Real world objects will require a unique identifier such as an RFID chip or a bar code, and a way to link this id to the internet, either through a radio signal or some kind of data capture device…a cell phone for example.

Has anyone begun numbering the various incarnations of the wireless world? We hope not. Whether its world wars or the world wide web these schemes create an imperative of the future that seems to never allow us to satisfactorily deal with the present.

The cell phone and its meaning for our lives is changing. What began as a simple metaphor for the home telephone, something we could all understand, evolved into the Swiss Army knife gadget with camera and music and calendar, and with the ongoing development of the Smartphone, a portable computer. All again, things we can understand.

What will it mean to carry a device that yes, you can use to speak to other people, and yes, you can use to access the same web pages you access at home (only excruciatingly smaller), but now you can use to get information which is relevant to your specific time, your place, and your activity, not through an act of technological heroism, but a simple, thoughtless, effortless wave of your cellphone?

1g, 2g, 3g, 4

While no one may have applied numbers to the wireless world overall, the data part of the cell phone, not the voice, is counting up to the promised land of 4g, that is, Fourth Generation wireless internet access. Currently about 50% of handsets are ready for 3g, and among those with these handsets, about half ever use it. 3g is much better than its predecessors, though all are built off of a technology designed to handle voice calls. Though constantly improving, wireless connection to the internet is still unbearably slow compared to home access, expensive, and for most consumers, seems to offer no compelling benefit, no “killer app”, no functionality which, once sampled, we can never again live without.

4g will deliver internet access, always on and available everywhere, and at speeds that will seem almost instant, or at least instant enough to make its use, again, simple, thoughtless, and effortless. Some believe it will be less expensive than the previous g’s because it will be open to all manufacturers and break Qualcomm’s monopolistic position and pricing in the market. Will it have its killer app? Maybe. Maybe 4g will have no killer app, but a bunch of great apps, perhaps including a service like Scanbuy, that taken together, will offer us something we will never live again without, and underpin a Cell 3.0 world that we can now barely imagine.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

We at marketmambo rarely have answers and are rarely confident in the ones we have. Our world is dominated by questions and observations, and we never seem capable of using the latter to satisfactorily address the former.

We will make one assertion to our readers in which we are confident, in fact the point of this long and twisting contemplation of technology: 2008 is the year we begin, in a meaningful way, to transition into the Cell 3.0 world.

The year 2008 will likely be remembered as a turning point in US and world history, in which our traditional assumptions about political and economic institutions have been forever undermined, and the headlines, which had been safely sequestered to the front page of our newspapers, are now visited upon our homes.

Justifiably overshadowed by the cataclysm around us, the countless changes required to shift our relationship to technology have, in 2008 proceeded, accelerated and matured, mostly unnoticed.

As we all know, within a few months our televisions will no longer work without a convertor. The reason for this is that the federal government has taken back from broadcast television a 65Mhz swath of radio spectrum centered at about 700 Mhz and auctioned it off, in January of 2008, to wireless carriers. This particular piece of the radio spectrum allows for signals to travel four times further than the frequency currently used by the carriers and will host the build out of the wireless internet.

In July of this year Apple launched its new iPhone, the 3G (yes that 3g), and in the way only Apple seems to do, has made a new technology accessible to the masses. You walk into the store looking for cool design, you walk out with advanced tech, and never have to feel like a geek. And the App Store encourages the never-ending increase of iPhone functionality through the creativity and ambition of countless developers.

In September, T-Mobile launched the G1, also known as the Google phone. The G1 is no where near as cool as the iPhone, but in an important way it’s far more revolutionary. Though Apple allows outside developers to create iPhone apps, it reserves proprietary control over the operating system. You’ll never see the iPhone OS on another device. The G1 is built on Google’s Android operating system, which can and will be built into other handsets. In an important way, Google has picked up the democratization of Cell 3.0 technology begun by Apple.

Just last month Sprint announced the launch of its version of 4g, Wimax. It will roll out, slowly, market by market, and some critics complain that it may not yet offer true 4g capabilities. What Sprint has done is begun the process of taking the technology out of the labs and into the vocabulary and expectations of consumers.

But let’s begin to end where we began earlier, with existing projects and applications such as Graphedia, Yellow Arrow, [murmur], Semapedia, Semacode, and Scanbuy, and yes Twitter. The development of 4g hints as to what can exist in the future. These applications show what can be done now. And they make no sense in our current understanding of either the wireless world or the world wide web. They are technology without existing metaphor. They will be more difficult for consumers to understand and adopt, but at the same time they begin to suggest to marketers a world that now “can be”, if only they look across the canyon with courage and creativity.

Epilogue

In 2007 Reebok launched a website called RunEasy. The site targeted runners, allowing them to post their favorite routes along with comments and photos from their camera phones which were taken along the way. We don’t know the business results generated by the site, but admire the idea behind it. It was the use of technology at the service of an insightful understanding of this target, their identification with the sport, their sense of community, the transcendence of the run, and the collection of experiences they have at specific times and in specific places.

Somewhere near the time of the economics class we mentioned above, and just about at the exact same place, we also began our academic education in marketing. On the first day of the course we were given a definition of marketing that was based on an exchange of value, that one party give something to another with the anticipation of value in return.

The Cell 3.0 world is upon us. How can we as marketers use this concept to create greater affinity with out brands, how can we shape behavior, and yes, how can we generate revenue. Most importantly, how can we accomplish these objectives by creating real value for our customers?

We end this post with one nightmarish vision of how marketers will use these new technologies, which given our history, may not be altogether unlikely.



================

For Grafedia examples, click here.
For a Wired article on Grafedia, click here.
For Yellow Arrow examples, click here.
For Semacode, click here.
For Scanbuy, click here.
For Scanbuy on San Fran streets, click here.
For a blog post on Sear's Scanbuy test, click here.
For the Wikipedia article on object hyperlinking, click here.
For an article on 4g cell phones, click here.
To visit Reebok's Run Easy webiste click here.

2 comments:

John Rausch said...

Tito:
As I pored over this latest and most Dostoevskian posting of yours, I began to feel like a 1870s settler who finally makes it to the railroad station and, instead of encountering the expected smoke-billowing chug-a-chug locomotive, stands agape as a high-speed maglev bullet train whispers by at 300 miles a hour. Not to sound too much like a Luddite, but I'm only just beginning to comprehend the possibilities of Web 2.0, and here you are, depleting our strategic reserves of metaphors in your description of the wonders of Web 3.0. Can everyone in the world please stop advancing relentlessly on the future for just a couple of months while I try to catch up?
Signed, John "What Does This Button on My BlackBerry Do?" Rausch

Tito said...

Welcome back John.

We colonials enjoy your company.

We believe Mr. Dos would have failed at the task of reading our latest post. We decide to stop not by clock or word count or the quality of our conclusions. Each of our posts is a self-indulgent journey and ends only when we feel we’ve brought our disparate themes to a satisfactory resting point. But out of our sincere appreciation for the patience of our extended family, Los Mambos, we’ll try to avoid the more scenic paths in the future.

To your main point: so much talk of technology is wrapped in hyperbole intended to create feelings of inadequacy, to identify the speaker as “in the know” and the listener “out” of the know. Numbering the generations of technology is a ploy to make this intimidation easier.

We at marketmambo believe that this hyperbole only confuses the conversation. We as marketers must stare the tech beast in the eye and in each case, judge it as friend or faux. Not because tech is cool, but because we are driven by the twin imperatives to delight and surprise our consumers and efficiently and effectively generate revenue for our masters. We fulfill these imperatives through creativity, by ever seeing our world and our situation anew.

The avowed mission of marketmambo is to comment on the action at the edge of the marketing dance floor, the dance between marketers and consumers, the mambo of creativity and humanity, albeit in this most vulgar ballroom. We are rapt observers of the effects of technology on this dance.

Tito