Personal Location Based Communications

I’ve been skimming through a few of the presentations from Nokia World and taking a look at the MEX manifesto and thinking about some of the themes that came out of the >play conference. Location based services and advertising keep coming up, I commented about that in my initial post after the conference. I’m still feeling a disconnect though, the loop just hasn’t been closed on this one. I think there’s some fantastic potential there, but there are big gaping holes in what needs to be done.

I’m definitely a huge fan of the whole personal communications aspect of mobile. Sure the handset can be just another “pipe to the consumer” that content gets shoved down, but that would suck. It’s a personal portable communications mechanism that should allow me to connect with who/what I care about the most, not just consume. I’m sold on that part, top to bottom. What I haven’t figured out yet is the location based services part of that, and the impact on advertising in particular.

The problem with the location based stuff is that almost everything is invasive to a degree, and for the most part to a pretty great degree. The kinds of location based services that are personal and community focused should be the most valuable if we assume that the personal communications aspects trump the consumption aspects. The Loopt friend finder application is an excellent example of a positive personal communications focused LBS. People keep insisting that this is a great avenue for local advertising, but I’m not feeling it yet. I would like to be, so help me out.

The problems I see:

  • No one who uses the app actually wants information about the 300 Starbucks locations within 20 feet of their current location cluttering up the map of their friends. Try it out, snag a teenager in some major metro area and ask them how they use their phone. Seriously, just stop someone with a skateboard and talk to them. They don’t give a shit about businesses in the area. But then ask them if they have any photos and videos on their phone and how they’re sharing them, sometimes you’ll find out they have relatively complex adhoc networks and publishing mechanisms that aren’t being serviced by any current offering unless you really twist on MySpace to make it work for you. It’s not that they don’t care, they just don’t care about what you have to offer.
  • In order for that location based information to be “relevant and contextual” (MEX principle #3) it pretty much needs to be profile or recommendation based. Both of which are problematic in the extreme. I’m not saying that they can’t be solved, I just don’t see the necessary solutions coming up yet. Are they out there? Is there someone building an open and sharable community focused platform for mobile recommendations and preferences? I would love to chat with them.
  • Mobile publishing is still a major stumbling block. It would be great to introduce people to venues uniquely suited to their personal preferences in their local area, but does that quirky mom and pop breakfast shop down the street have something up online in mobile format that is going to convince the user to wander down and check them out? Usually not. We’re going to have to rely on user generated content for this stuff also. I think stuff like Plazes is driving this in the right direction. But how long has that been going on for, and it doesn’t seem like it’s really hit critical mass yet. Even in Palo Alto, which outside of SF itself tends to be one of the highest density tech communities I’ve found. And their info is really tied to wifi hotspots and not true geolocation info (argue all you want, you know I’m right).
  • Location based advertising requires the advertiser to work in a way that’s very significantly outside of their experience. Their campaigns simply aren’t structured in terms of “sending 2000 coupons to people within 4 blocks of Union Square”. If they don’t have a way to measure it and fold it into their other metrics it’s a useless feature to them. It takes time for models like this to work themselves out. And so far I haven’t been hearing the advertisers talk much about location based advertising. Actually what I keep hearing again and again is that dealing with the advertising agencies that control big budgets in advertising requires that you conform to the models they already understand and gradually shift things in the direction you want. There’s a lot of momentum to overcome in the trillion dollar advertising industry. I think it’s worth doing, otherwise I wouldn’t be working on mobile advertising. But a technology focused solution isn’t the answer, no one is going to pay attention. You need to figure out how to make people with money for advertising give it to you. The technology itself is the easy part. But people with the technology stand up and declare the problem already solved. That’s disconcerting to me, and indicative of a pretty major disjoin between the technology providers and the market (not that this particular situation is anything new to mobile). Something like this needs to be bottom up, and the bottom is where the smallest margins and most work are. Yet LBS is seen as a “premium” that can be charged at astronomical rates, and that just sets the bar too high for advertising supported services.
  • People familiar with online advertising, and user generated content in particular, know that you make advertising money from Google and YPN not based on your persistent users but based on search traffic. Someone searches on Google for an answer, clicks on the search result linking to some comment to one of your blog posts, doesn’t find what they want there, and leaves via an advertisement. Your persistent readers aren’t a great source of advertising revenue, they’re a great source of content. Let them communicate without interruption and maybe you get to use that content to make some money off of. It’s not clear to me how that maps to mobile and LBS. The key online is that context can be inferred based on the reverse of the index used for searches, but there is no equivalent for the essential location metadata. How do you make that system self-regulating?

There seems to be more and more geolocation/LBS stuff going on all the time, I know you folks are out there, definitely weigh in on this one.

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5 Responses to Personal Location Based Communications

  1. Hi Mike,

    You said it was OK to weigh in on this, so I’m going to take the opportunity :)

    The problem with the location based stuff is that almost everything is invasive to a degree, and for the most part to a pretty great degree.

    Agreed… on the desktop I’m fine with a few interruptions, I have plenty of blockers to slow the advertisers down. What I’m really looking for is an add that’s relevant to “Me”. The problem is that they (the advertisers) have no idea what I like.

    No one who uses the app actually wants information about the 300 Starbucks locations within 20 feet of their current location cluttering up the map of their friends.

    Agreed – however what I would be interested is an incentive to visit one of those Starbucks. Say a time stamped coupon that could be redeemed at the Point of Sale.

    In order for that location based information to be “relevant and contextual” (MEX principle #3) it pretty much needs to be profile or recommendation based.

    Agreed. It has to be personal data and it has to be location specific. In addition it needs to be secure, and it needs to be under the control of the consumer.

    Is there someone building an open and sharable community focused platform for mobile recommendations and preferences? I would love to chat with them.

    They’re out there. Our company has built one. It’s a data communications platform. The thin client is extensible and we’re publishing our API’s to the lower layer data transport mechanism. All of the “data fields” are customizable, you can even build your own applets to take advantage of our platform. All of the data is secured on the device with encryption and also in transit up to the server. All you need is our server module to unencrypt the data at the server end and then it can be passed to the web service that needs it.

    Mobile publishing is still a major stumbling block. It would be great to introduce people to venues uniquely suited to their personal preferences in their local area, but does that quirky mom and pop breakfast shop down the street have something up online in mobile format that is going to convince the user to wander down and check them out?

    Our solution scales to the desktop. See the Mom & Pop on your big screen, collect the mobile coupon on your Smartphone and wander into the store to redeem your free prize.

    And their info is really tied to wifi hotspots and not true geolocation info (argue all you want, you know I’m right).

    Our solution supports real time GPS information for true geolocation. There are screen snapshots on our web site and a demo is available for the PocketPC.

    Location based advertising requires the advertiser to work in a way that’s very significantly outside of their experience. Their campaigns simply aren’t structured in terms of “sending 2000 coupons to people within 4 blocks of Union Square”.

    Agreed… I would argue though that their systems aren’t geared to sending 2000 coupons because they have no idea of the persons preferences (Who), the target devices capability, (What) or its location (Where). Think of this data… if you as an advertiser knew what I liked (cycling, Asian cuisine, fine wines), the devices capabilities e.g. a 240 * 240 screen with a 144 dpi resolution and 65,000 colors and also my current location e.g. Denver CO on the corner of Broadway and 14th think about what they could do with that information.

    50% of advertising is worthless. The key is to figure out which 50%. You do that with targeting and also by incorporating a mechanism to close the marketing loop.

    Let’s go back to your Starbucks example. Starbucks corporation knows Who, What and Where I am. They send me directions for the nearest Starbucks and include a time stamped coupon to receive a discount on a pound of coffee if I purchase in the next 30 minutes. Now the advertiser simply waits… if the coupon is redeemed in the next 30 minutes the advert was a success. If not, they need to recalibrate. However the advertiser only pays on the event occurring NOT the ad being transmitted.

    You can see examples of how all this works on our web site (http://www.5o9inc.com)

    Cheers,

    Peter

  2. miker says:

    I’m gonna leave the comment up cause I asked people to weigh in, but I’m lumping that in with the “pretty major disjoin between the technology providers and the market” group. Nothing of what you’ve said addresses the market. Would it be cool if vendors could send targeted coupons to users? Sure. But are they driven to do so, driven enough to experiment with a new medium?

  3. Jason Devitt says:

    Mike

    My previous company, Vindigo, has sold several million dollars in advertising on mobile phones and PDAs since 2000. There is a list of some clients here:
    http://vindigo.com/advertisers/case.html
    Our best known products were location-based: the Vindigo city guide and Mapquest Mobile, which we powered. And I spent three years on the board of the IAB. This is not an ad for me or for Vindigo, which I left more than a year ago, I just want to be clear that I am not shooting my mouth off when I say:

    (1) Your analysis is correct.
    (2) National and regional advertisers care about reach, reach, and reach in that order. If you can’t offer them reach, they may throw you some business if you can do something ‘cool’ and ‘different’, where the definition of cool and different depends on the exact 22 year old media buyer that you are dealing with.
    (3) After their Yellow Pages rep has shaken them down and they have paid to slip a flyer under the door of every home and business in the area, local businesses have approximately zero dollars left to spend on advertising except for car dealerships, lawyers, and doctors, none of which are impulse purchases.

    Happy to discuss further by email.

    Jason

  4. mobiedave says:

    Your comment about asking a kid on a skateboard what he uses it for…resonates. The problem with tech solutions is that they are developed by tech companies and then sold to the consumer. No one asks the consumer what he or she wants or needs. What I need in NYC is a mobile app that provides a trusted source of say restaurant recomendations within three blocks of where I am

  5. Pingback: Mike Rowehl: This is Mobility » Blog Archive » MobileCampSF

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