Phone: the silent takeover of AI.

Austin is still vibrating after Kurzweils talk yesterday. Enhanced humans. Man-machine connections. For many people it is a bridge too far, a century too early. But if you look closer, it shows that we’re almost there.

The average phone that the average #SxSW visitor uses, packs enough power to shame the most avid chess player, it is a billion billion times faster than the machines that decoded the German Enigma code in World War II. And it is readily available at your fingertips.

Phones are like Swiss Army Knives. Through our phone, we outsource our memory to the Cloud: our contacts, our pictures, our music, our social calendar, our cv. It’s virtually stored on a faraway server, accessible to 3 or 4 G connections and Wifi.  Our phones give us directions while driving, tells us where our friends are, and where we can find food. They are quickly becoming the number one gateway to the internet. More and more calls on Google, maps, Wikipedia and other information libraries are done on a mobile phone.

I’ve seen people giving presentations at #SxSW with their phone directly linked to a beamer, people who travel without laptop or iPad, and solely rely on the processing and connection power of their smart phone.

Phones are voice controlled, location savvy, and can connect to a multitude of external devices, from Nike Run, over Bluetooth sensor devices, to cars and home entertainment systems. The few people you see at SxSW that lost their phone are bewildered: it makes them feel thrown back in time, exposed, and vulnerable. Phones have more impact on our daily life than we care to imagine.

For brands and their agencies, the phone has become the target for the years to come. Here is the opportunity to link with your target audience at the very point of decision, the very point of purchase. The ability to connect to people wherever they are, and use the phone as a two way gate way is priceless. Contextual information, peer-driven opinion, profile and location linked behavior… it opens a ton of exciting possibilities, and a can of grim worms.

Use it wisely…

Location is not a product. It’s a feature.

When you look back, how stupid were we? Social Media was new, Location was new. All experts looked at it, said oh and ah…  And we thought it was a product. We put it in boxes. We branded it with shiny, expensive labels. We turned it into Powerpoints from hell, with graphics in screaming colors, and way too many buzz words.

But, with hindsight, the industry just got it dead wrong. See, location is not a product. It’s nothing you can sell or promote. Places are places. Dots on a map, there is nothing sexy, exciting, sharable and social. Location is about where people are. What people do. How people share. Location is not a product. It is a feature; it is a way of life.

Productizing location does not work. The social consumer needs to feel that location brings him added value. In the case of navigation, that added value is simple and immediate: it brings you where you have to be. In the case of social sharing, education is needed to show the consumer the benefit. But the consumer gets it fast. Checking in is an active do-thing, but the pay-off is potentially huge: with peer reviews, and tips from the community, the environment becomes instantly social savvy. Information about the environment in turn for a check-in:  Is the food good? The waiters friendly? The bed sheets clean? The drinks cold? Rooms available? Do they accept your favorite credit cards? And… most importantly, are any of your friends there?

With a clear pay-off (contextual information), location becomes a feature, something people use because it is useful. Location becomes social currency, so does location based information.  We are social objects moving in a social environment. Location is part of the social interaction, part of life.

I am somewhere, therefor I exist”, that’s true, William Shakespeare!

Location starts getting real value

#SxSW in Austin still needs to officially kick off, but one thing is for sure: it is still about location, location, location. In the night and early hours before the event, you see location based tags and check-ins popping up like warm popcorn all over the city.

Foursquare, Gowalla and Google Places are arm wrestling for love and attention, and mayorships, points and badges are being distributed to the convention goers like ice cubes on a warm day.

But I spot a mayor difference. It goes way beyond the boyish gimmicks now. Location starts to add value. The big three added a ton of Social Functionality to their offering: the fact that people now can rate places, add tips, and hint at things to do, hyper jumped location based sharing into a realm that makes social marketing interesting. We found a great Austin Barbeque Place to eat, based solely on tips of Foursquare and Gowalla. We were tricked to the coolest bars in town with the same applications.

Startup “Heat Tracker” (find it for free in the app store) shows where the most action takes place in a reasonable circle around you. “Heating up” proves to be a great indicator for finding cool places to hang out with likeminded people.

Social location linked with the endless possibilities of “rating” places opens a great added value: peer screening. Nothing better to guide your culinary escapades in an unknown town than tips of people who tried it before.

Checking in is not just for geeks anymore, it helps determining the places to be, the hot spots and the trendy locations. The time a selected group of journalists and critics, and specialized publications as Michelin Guides and tutti quanti could determine where in town you wanted to be seen is over.

The reputation is made by the countless people around you. And THAT is a good thing ;-).

A dollar for a (Star)buck(s)…

I’ve been passionate about location based services for ages. In my humble –but very wise :-)- opinion, the various possibilities for location based offerings are endless. True, location will only pay-off and be widely accepted when it will be closely linked to the psychographic and econo-graphic profile of the user. And the user needs to be in full control of the level and focus of the LBS information coming through his shields… But we’re not there yet.

After GPS in car and navigation on mobile devices, the first steps of true location based applications are surfacing fast. Twitter, Facebook and other networks scatter to embed location in their offering.  Gowalla and Foursquare constructed their complete business model around it.  Most users still look a bit hesitant at these services. Checking into places is a nice gimmick, but what does it really bring? And how quick do people tire of collecting mayorships and badges? Pay-offs will have to be found to keep as well consumers as businesses and brands in the game.

The tracks are now being laid in front of the fast moving train. Starbucks, the coffee phenomenon, already rewarded frequent customers with a collectors Barista badge on Foursquare. It now jumps a hell of a step further by offering a stunning 1 dollar discount to people holding a Starbucks mayorship on Foursquare.  

Getting a full $1 off a $4 Frappuccino is a baffling discount. For the first time, loyal customers get a tangible pay-off for their location based social media advocacy of their favorite brand.

Collecting badges, adding new places, posting reviews and sharing tips just jumped from mouth-to-mouth sharing in a game-esk set-up to a possible lucrative business with a direct ROI for participants. The rules of the game have fundamentally changed. Did any-one notice?

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