Physical Presence + Mobile + Social Networking = Killer Social Networking App?

March 9, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Mobile and pervasive computing, presence, social software, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

Some clever students at the University of Maine created a prototype of a “friend finder” that works as follows according to Gadgets.Softpedia:

The students’ concept, which they call the Friend Finder, is a device attached to a piece of clothing or accessory, such as a purse or handbag. A series of LED lights in the fabric are programmed to light up when someone who also has the device comes within 30 feet, but only if the two people match in pre-programmed personal characteristics, likes and dislikes.

These type of wearable electronics must be somewhat common as this story was also covered in talk2myshirt, a website specifically about wearable electronics.

The Wall St. Journal (3/6/09, p W11, “The Ghost in the Love Machine“) picked this up as a computer dating story, but I see this as a serious idea for business-related social networking.  How many wallflowers do you see standing around the bistro tables during social breaks and buffet dinners at conferences?  Well, picture the following scenarios:

  • You’re at your annual epidemiology conference, of which only a small handful of attendees match your specialty of pediatric epidemiology.  Your Bluetooth device dings a few times to let you know the name badge to look for of someone else within 10 meters of you who pre-regestered with the same specialty and checked that they are available for conversation
  • You’re at the annual internal conference for financial staff at your large conglomerate and your Bluetooth device lets you know someone very close to you at the cocktail party is an expert in EU stock options regulation, which is one of the topics you pre-registered as wanting to connect with someone about.
  • There are a bunch of people that you’d like to connect up with at a conference (some are old team mates, others are vendors you wanted to connect with informally) and your eyes are getting tired walking around the crowded tradeshow floor and scanning for people you know.  Then you remember you pre-registered a list of people who you’d like to be alerted if they are nearby and see your iPhone has already pointed out two of them a short distance nearby.

So what I’ve described is combining concepts from rich presence (adding a physical dimension and availability flagging), mobile technology (some RFID or Bluetooth-type micro-broadcasting technology), and social networking (profiles on what you know and what kind of people you’d like to converse with). 

This is similar to functionality on conference sites to help you connect ahead of time with others and form communities of interest, but adds ups the ante on serendipity – that all-important buzzword for the value of chance meetings that are too often stifled by org charts, distance, and general closed-mindedness. It’s similar to sites that let you find people to connect up with when visiting a city or museum, but more “wearable”.  I’m hoping this already exists somewhere, because I think the immediacy of it could make it a killer app for social networking.

Addendum: My teammate Mike Gotta pointed out a company called nTag that lists this type of functionality among their features:

Get attendees talking with nTAG’s Greetings features. Using profile information provided at the time of registration, nTAG lets attendees know what they have in common so it’s easier to start conversations.


The End of Snow Days as We Know Them

December 19, 2008 at 11:37 am | Posted in collaboration, communication, Content Management, Information Work, Mobile and pervasive computing | 1 Comment

No, I’m not talking about the impact of global warming.  The snow pounding the Midwest and West (snow in Las Vegas?!) makes clear we’re not done with snowstorms quite yet, as you can see from this pic I took during a stroll to the mailbox this morning.

Winter Dec 08 stuck

What I’m thinking about is the impact of web-based communication and collaboration technologies.  For office workers in cold climates everywhere, a dirty secret is that adults are often keeping their fingers crossed for snow days just as much as their kids are.  When I was a programmer in a large financial services firm, I remember listening carefully to the radio after a big snowfall to see if my building was one of those announced as closed.  But many digital nomads today can take an occasional work at home day without their laptop because files are stored online and the workers have basic productivity tools at home. 

If you can work at home, how can you have a snow day? 

Meetings may already have conference call-in numbers because one of the participants was working at home, so they can go on as planned with everyone calling in.  It is now rare that an organization doesn’t offer web access to their e-mail and calendar.  With the increasing affordability and necessity of having a computer, you’d look like a Luddite if you proclaim you can’t work at home because you don’t own a computer with basic word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet software at home. 

For example, when it snowed about 8 inches in one day in Chicago last year, my wife stayed home, made hot cocoa, and we sat by the fire.  Since then her workplace has put all their documents on to a server with web-based access.  If she has to stay home this winter, she’ll be sipping her hot cocoa in front of a nice warm monitor instead.

So enjoy what may be your last winter snow days.  By next year, your work at home dream may become your snow day nightmare.

iWow! iPhone Kills Dozens of iTrees and Ships in its Own iBox

August 15, 2007 at 11:39 am | Posted in knowledge management, Mobile and pervasive computing, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments

If you haven’t seen the video of a woman opening her 300 page iPhone bill, check out the article and link here.  I’ll admit – I’m not currently a fancy phone kinda person, so you won’t see me commenting a lot on the mobile industry unless I get assigned that as a research topic. However, brand management and information management are passions of mine and in those terms I consider this a minor disaster.

From my view it’s a cautionary tale in 3 ways:

  • The potential for collateral damage to brand image from partnerships. Manufacturers of products endorsed by athletes have often had to deal with this type of problem. In fact, it has become so prevalent that some companies and sponsors of events have decided the risk of collateral damage outweighs the benefit and now avoid such spokespeople. Now it’s Apple’s turn. Apple has earned a strong brand image that associates them with sleek, streamlined, innovative (not tied to legacy), understanding young people, and hip. But their relationship with AT&T has resulted in a brand management issue that is getting heavy exposure (including CNN Headline News) that will associate “Apple” and “iPhone” with something non-sleek, tied to an old way of doing things, unhip, and abhorrent to the values of many young people.
  • The Web 2.0 generation has massively greater power to embarrass large organizations than previous generations. Accordingly, large organizations need to allocate budgets massively greater than those of a generation ago to mitigate this risk through continuous monitoring of legacy and Web 2.0 communication channels as well as a general PR contingency plan for unpredictable disasters.
  • Old information dissemination practices must be reviewed in light of new information demands. When the only thing a cellphone did was make calls (and expensive ones at that), a paper itemized bill made sense. Text messages are far more numerous (an astounding 30,000 for Justine) so the same format will be practically useless.  Even if one was interested in the information on those pages, they would have great difficulty finding and using it.

And to those people who say it’s her fault for not selecting e-bill, you should have to opt-in to a bill that may require being shipped in a box, not opt-out. And I don’t think one would reasonably expect that their paper billing would result in a few redwoods worth of itemization.

Mobile Portals are Just Around the (Long) Corner

July 30, 2007 at 10:30 am | Posted in Mobile and pervasive computing, portals | 1 Comment

The case for utilizing portals on mobile and pervasive devices is a good one. First, consider the driver of portals on the desktop. In a standard web-based portal that is accessed from a desktop PC, the portal helps pick out and display the several applications, pieces of content, and navigation links that are useful for the user out of the huge number of sources the portal has access to. It’s a great answer to the problem of information overload. And, even if you know where all your content and applications are, it is a big timesaver to have them all in one place with single sign-on in front of them. It keeps the user from having to hunt through a “web” of pages (ah, that’s where that word comes from!), scanning them all and clicking in and out of them to get to the needed pieces of content.

That same set of drivers goes double for mobile devices. With smaller screens on PDAs and smart phones it is even tougher to scan through web pages. Combine that with slower access times and it is even more painful to load large web pages to view bits of content and click through several levels of pages to get to it. And that’s why mobile use of portals is going to take off …

… At least, that’s what I was told in 2002. I saw some impressive technology for it as well, mostly from Sybase but also from IBM and Oracle. The technology went beyond simple transformation of pages into WAP and actually provided design-time selection of deprecated page elements, matrices of style sheets for different devices (many pre-provided), and emulators for testing the pages.

The problem is in practice it just hasn’t caught on. Vendors I spoke to a few years later were a bit peeved that significant development effort was spent on features that wound up not being used very much. Mobile portal features appeared as needs on lots of RFPs, so maybe the vendors won some deals they wouldn’t have otherwise, but this code was supposed to be actually used, not just artwork.

There have certainly been inroads into mobile access to information in certain industries, like utility field service and medical. But those are mobile applications and don’t need to leverage portal infrastructure for personalization, application integration, single sign-on, and page assembly.  There is a lot of room for inroads in mobile computing separate from portals.

I think this is a case where it just takes time to catch on and the vendors were expecting a big bang. The drivers are still valid and while I haven’t seen stats, I’m sure mobile use has increased slowly but steadily, although it’s still at a low percentage of overall usage. Maybe a better browser like in Apple’s iPhone will be the breakthrough. is designing for it successfully. And once the AT&T network that Apple uses upgrades to a higher speed, the improved web page viewing with better resolution and gesturing may be the catalyst for mobile portals finally taking off.

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