The social web has a connection conundrum.
Our own enthusiasm with the democratization of expression has created the very noise that is making it hard for ourselves to be heard clearly–or even found.
The antidote to social noise, the key to finding connections around interests lies somewhere in the interest graph and the choice of context over friendship as a filter for relevance. I blogged on this here.
This is a real problem for everyone on social web. It’s a gotcha built into the fabric of social ecosystem itself, not an isolated bubble nor a mass hallucination of the uber tech aficionados.
Finding real connections with like-minded individuals and for businesses, connecting with their marketplace requires a fresh look at the social infrastructure, with a new lens…or maybe the current one turned inside out.
Social media logic says to keep creating interesting and honest content, keep recycling and resharing links and this will create intersections of value. This brute force approach is too haphazard and works less well daily. We need to understand how social design intersects with businesses needs; where context connects with customers.
And how it becomes actionable—how do you find and have conversations with people who are interested in both sports and raw foods? How does your company connect with people who are trying to solve a problem that your company’s product is built for? Actionable context is the goal.
Think of the filtered web as a mesh of layers getting finer and more finely tuned as you surface from the amorphous friend’s graph to discover interest connections and context for conversations. You need to pop out value connections from the social graph, not just add to it with more content and noise. This is not a science but it is marketing with focused social intent.
Harnessing interest and context is the realm of the curation tools and platforms. There are scads of companies in a race to win our attention, capture our network data, discover context and build new communities of interest at the intersection of these social graphs around our specific needs.
This is just really hard to do and today, more promise than reality. Filtering relevance and connection out of broad-based social networks is non-trivial but key to discovering business utility within the wondrous social framework of the real-time web.
I believe that you need to focus on context over friendship and discovery not just curation as the goal. That’s the end game and the fuel behind the race. I’m positive that every curation platform, especially the more aggressive ones like Summify and XYDO and the scrappy smart ones like Eqentia, are all chasing this.
I search for contextual connections every day for my own and my client’s businesses and have tried many of the platforms. This is my wish list to make curation useful and discovery tangible for both individuals and businesses.
‘Good enough’ curation filters are neither good nor specific enough to be useful
Curation is in some ways just smart search with an intent to aggregate and share.
The same problems that plague search plague curation as well. What I see in Summify or XYDO, I’ve already seen in my Facebook wall or Twitter streams. And most of what I see isn’t that contextual, it’s simply a garden-variety search result with social plugins as a layer.
Two ideas jump to mind that may help to remedy sameness by building context around more unique information:
-Broaden the input stream
The world is not just Facebook and Twitter. Few (maybe no) curation engines import Tumblr content. And none have found a way to work with Disqus to plumb the massive implicit data that resides in their comment systems.
35 million Disqus commenters having conversations on over 750,000 blogs is a global pool of connection value that is untouched. That’s an ocean of context to channel.
-Self-tuning and personalized curation controls
When most players in a new segment are building the same thing, something is amiss. Curation tools are essential but they mostly seem generic and force context based on link popularity. This is both a yawn as a social play and non productive as a business solution. The curation process needs to be personal, customizable and adjustable in real-time.
The hierarchy of curation terms would be a good start, like you adjust bid terms in a pay-per-click ad campaign. These are personal filters, your screens with different mesh densities, that need to move from the very specific (rarely used) to the general (everybody uses).
Being able to parse and rearrange streams of information by keyword lets you define your own context.
For example, my list of curation keywords for natural wines (general to specific) is: Artisanal-> Natural->Organic-> Biodynamic-> Region-> Vineyard->individual vintage.
I want to pull the adjustment levers at will, adjusting the search as I refine the information and the context I think is most promising.
Check out Eqentia’s dashboard for this. It’s a good one, letting me curate by type and sort by a variety of factors, not just popularity.
Sharing is not contextual by definition
A Facebook ‘Like’. A link ‘Share’, or a ‘Follow’ are not delimiting factors and while they inform, they don’t really guide finding information or context.
Think about what happens on a comment string of Fred Wilson’s or Mark Suster’s blogs. These guys are master curators of focused and topical communities. Both are the epitome of context and a bright spotlight on the interest graph for technology and start-up discussions.
Their dynamic encourages sharing, learning, friendships, communities of extended interest and even new customers and partners. They are a wonder and but very much the exception.
Few of the curation platform players seem to understand that content without dynamic context is really neither interesting nor that valuable. The mix of search and social is uncomfortable and bolted on, like Google trying to integrate social data into search.
Interest footprints are complex and multifaceted, like people themselves
When I decided to hang my business and wine blogs off of the same URL, a couple of friends thought I was wacky. But that is my interest footprint and my personal passion graph and just who I am. Today over 90% of my business connections converse with me about wine. That intersection of wine for me, is a shared footprint along with business needs.
Follow any comment string on a dynamic community. If the commenter is from Colorado in the winter, skiing comes up. If from Spain, Mencia and Galica surface. If from London, the Tate Modern. This is human nature. The platform needs to encourage and support conversations as they naturally occur.
Human nature is telling us something about social business design. We want to have interests intersect even as we are searching for just one. Few of the curation platforms seem to be listening.
Discovering context is the end game of curation
The need to filter social networks to create value is a natural reaction to the raw value and size of the networks themselves.
Social nets like Facebook and Twitter need to figure this out for their own models. The rest of us do it for pursuit of interests, business connections and enlisting customers. It’s a real problem with no apparent nor pat solution.
Some niches have developed communities around rock star bloggers. But there is an infinite yearning for groupings around informational needs in travel, arts, sciences, crafts and on and on. On my list of have-to-finds, very few are located. And just putting out more and more content to create a magnet for context is a non-answer.
Businesses fall into that same need to discover these groupings to find new interest for their products. They need to channel the contextual exhaust from these communities of interest into commercial connections. They are looking for these informational-sorted, socially-fueled links in their sales and community funnels.
It’s this commerce piece of the search for context that is the Philosopher’s Stone of the social web.
The market leading solution will be some variation of a B-to-C-to-B curation paradigm. People want to connect socially, create communities of interest with new friends, share information and refer each other to products or vendors or destinations.
When this happens, not only will individuals have dynamic channels for connections but businesses will have a new customer acquisition pipeline from these communities of curated interests.
And the platform that figures out how to go beyond friendship-based communities and referrals to context and interest-based commercial traffic aggregators will have solved both the value for their network users and the business model for themselves at the same time.
Web traffic is the marketplace talking to us at a click level.
This is true both pre and post the social web.
But just about everything else has changed, including the very nature of how SEO works as a traffic driver in a world reconfigured around the social web.
Two guys who really get traffic, Henry Blodget (CEO of Business Insider) and Kevin Krim (Head of Digital, Bloomberg) were on a panel at Media Summit 2011 recently talking about traffic. I sat in and per them, the traffic growth breakdown looks like this for content sites:
- Direct = 40-60%
- SEO = 30-40%
- Social = 20-35%
This looks textbook perfect but to most of us is more aspirational than a reflection of what our own stats look like.
Content rich sites are finding themselves challenged by traffic growth, especially in natural search. At one level, this stems from a crowded and competitive keyword universe. Domains are scarce and most common category keywords wildly competitive and seemingly impossible to show above the fold where it matters.
But more than keyword competition, the seemingly counterintuitive connection between success in natural search and success in driving community and social traffic is at the core of the new search order and at the heart of the traffic challenge.
I advised a client on this recently and it afforded me the opportunity to vet my search assumptions to a handful of highly referred, smart people and agencies in the SEO field.
To be clear, I’m not an expert. I’m the customer of SEO services. I don’t need to understand everything at an atomic level but I need to feel informed to the point that I’m comfortable making the tradeoffs in schedule and budget to get the best traffic results.
Understanding the changes in search in a social world took more work than I imagined…and the comfort with vendors and their approach has not been easy. Every business owner and marketer must be facing the same choices when noodling over how to grow their traffic and their businesses because it is they, not the experts, who need to make these resource and business decisions.
To help myself understand, and with some guidance from smart people I bumped into, I built three thought categories that helped me, even though they broke the mold somewhat of how traditional agencies service their clients.
How to decide what really matters to drive more traffic in SEO?
Brad Prescott, an organic search publisher who thinks at the intersection of social, search and lead gen, shared the following with me as a guideline to rank search activities in order of contribution to traffic.
- Content = 40%
- Backlinks = 40%
- Spider friendly code = 20%
I view these as a virtual slider to help make decisions and develop qualifying criteria of what makes sense to do and when.
-Great content with spider friendly code won’t have a great ranking without strong backlinks.
Translation: the proof of the quality of content is the quantity of links that get shared. Your market is guiding you on what they like. Code is irrelevant at this juncture.
-Great content with strong backlinks will rank well without spider friendly code.
Translation: If the content is interesting and shared, you can still rank well even without spider friendly code on your site. You can compete in the rankings war even without the pain and cost of massive code changes.
-Great content with strong backlinks will accelerate in rankings greatly if you clean up the code.
Translation: If content is great and humming, you’ve got approx 20% of upside cleaning up the code level. This is tough work, involves engineering and for small companies is a tradeoff between building out the product or fixing the plumbing. Sometimes it’s right. Rarely ever the first step. A great first step when starting from scratch, harder the more the site gets iterated together.
You might think these simple conclusions are obvious. From the conversations I had and quotes I took, they are not.
For example, if you have seemingly topped out in SEO-driven traffic growth but have low social and SEO sources, what is the first activity?
- Fix the code because while not easy it is a discrete action that is knowable?
- Reconfigure your thinking and content approach to discover how to turn your customers interest into sharable information bits to drive more unique traffic?
People often choose what they know and avoid having to do what they don’t have a clear scientific path for. This happens all the time. It’s the wrong choice.
I’m a believer in an integrated marketing and search approach. Everything does tie together at its core. But the argument that you need to do code level work at the same time as content and backlinks is misguided logic to my thinking. This is text-book not the priority driven real world. Certainly everything contributes, but you should choose what is most pertinent not what is most familiar nor discrete.
Part of the problem with traditional approaches to SEO at an agency level comes from a seeming mismatch between how search used to be and how it is today.
There is a skill set for understanding how to create spider friendly code. A skill set for thin slicing the world into keyword matrices. A marketing strategy to build partnerships for backlinks. And the hard and critical and unchartered work of creating socially interesting and shareable content.
No one individual can do these all. I question whether all four can exist within an agency that is targeted towards and affordable by a small or mid sized company.
Thinking of the world from a keyword perspective matters…and is learnable.
Keywords, as Joel Greenberg, a marketing pro told me, are one of the spices that SEO offers to the traffic equation. And keyword knowledge is key. It used to be considered SEO DNA. It’s less overtly critical now but still important. Search and marketing and even social activities are more coherent and directed when you have this keyword map of your business ecosystem.
SEO experts think in a matrix of keywords. Translating and slicing your business goals and product strength into market terms that the search world defines for you is a powerful asset.
Mapping words against competition. Mapping words against the reality of garnishing that competitive traffic. And then teaching your writers and content curators, your community managers and tweeters, how to think about and use the terms, matters.
This is a learnable and teachable skill.
This is expertise that you need to find a way to acquire. If agencies won’t work ala Carte, find individuals with credentials to help you plot this out.
Social and search, in today’s world are more alike than different.
This is the big aha that stunned me and shone a light on where natural search is today and how to harness it for your company.
The key for both search and social is that your content needs to be interesting and relevant before it can shared and liked and referred. Very simple. Very powerful. Very difficult for many companies to do.
The good news is that the tools and networks for sharing are everywhere. The challenge is that being interesting and relevant is certainly obtainable but not trivial and is not something that a search expert or most experts can teach you.
As an example–not everyone can tell a joke but everyone likes to laugh. Therein is the situation for producing content. You need to be able to tell a joke or become the curator of the comedians, because that laugh is what is shareable. That laugh is the link that drives unique traffic.
That is why social is hard for companies. You can’t buy it. You can’t hire a proxy. You need to keep peeling back the layers between yourself and your customer till you connect. And build from there.
This is true for search as well. Google has access to all Twitter data and some of Facebook’s as well. And per them, your popularity, gauged by network chatter is part of your natural ranking.
The great post that gets retweeted and shared. The post’s comments that get shared and retweeted create both social referrals and social proof for Google’s engines.
And backlinks, whether they are a referred link on Twitter or part of a syndication out to your network, to Google are just backlinks.
It’s harder to tell how search and social are different than to list how they are alike.
This is a changed…and much more interesting world where the categorical relevance of SEO intersects with the personal communications of social.
As business owners and marketers what we do, all day every day is figure out the connection between our products and the marketplace. How to grow and create value is our job description.
Over the last few posts, I’ve dug into how the social web has moved the customer into the center of the commercial bulls eye. How marketers are the connectors of customer and market value. And how human behavior broadened and found areas of expression on social nets that simply wasn’t able to be seen prior.
Honestly, I usually think of search and social as distinct, even competitive approaches to providing relevance to the customer. The Facebook <-> Google standoff.
I’m sure that exists to some degree; not so in the SEO and the social worlds.
Search informs the efficiency, especially through keywords, of social spread. And social proof has changed its value scale and transformed the core of how search engines rank value, and create rankings. That’s what drives traffic and what determines, to a large part, your business success.
How powerful is this? How radical a change is this?
When the answer to how to increase your search rankings on Google is to write interesting content that engages your customer’s values and interest and incites sharing…everything is different.
Search and social start to dance to the same drumbeat and the customer’s satisfaction is the drummer.
And just like you need marketers and product coders to really build a winning product that organically can find its early market, you need a partnership between SEO scientists and great communicators to really crack the SEO and social code conundrum
This is a better world. More challenging in some respects, more approachable by all.
Marketing has traditionally been thought of as a split discipline, with strategy driving the concept and direction, and execution and tactics charged with making things happen.
Nothing could be further from today’s reality than this.
The more you separate the strategy from the execution, the more you wall the actions from ideas that directed them, the more you lose touch with the dynamics of the market.
And the more you view marketing as anything less than an ongoing continuum with your customer, the more you are stacking the deck against you.
Something very intrinsic has changed that drives this.
In many ways the reality of today’s business and marketing world has occurred because it can. Not only the hierarchy of power, but people themselves have changed.
I don’t know which came first–the technology that empowered the change or the human drive for different market dynamics. Regardless, the result is a new landscape with the customer as the center of gravity for the commercial world.
Human behavior has evolved alongside the technology and the marketplace has reconfigured itself to the new world order. And marketing, that connecter has shifted focus toward process of discovery and communications with the customer. In fact, marketing is that process.
I had an email exchange with a University marketing professor after I wrote my “Customers rule” post last week. This sums up his stance:
While customers have more power to vote with their dollars because of the Internet, it’s just an enabling technology and not a paradigm shift. There were customer centric companies before the Internet.
We are on opposite sides of this discussion. Not about the value of the customer but about the depth of change in today’s commercial ecosytem.
Undeniably, the tools are powerful and enabling but I believe that a basic human and commercial shift has occurred. This is not merely a continuum of core business values, but something new and more profound.
The real-time web and social nets have enabled new behaviors to arise and the social landscape has changed with them. With freedom of choice, personal power of communications and a readily available global audience, the result is a different commercial and (even) political world.
Communications and social tools are not the change–how we use them and how that has affected us is. This is a paradigm shift, not just faster cars on the same roads with the same rules.
Think about the check-in space and the social nets.
Have check-ins exploded because we have phones and are always connected or because it tapped into a behavior looking for a platform? Or the incessant need for sharing on social nets. Is Twitter or Facebook the catalyst? Or was human behavior ready to share and brand itself and the platform enabled that?
Things changed because they could, because a new platform of possibility empowered by technology but inhabited by a customer-centric world has evolved.
I believe that this is driven by the behavior not the tools. And this is not a subtle distinction, especially as it affects how we market to and discover our customers.
Great customer-centric companies like Nordstrom who invented the ‘no questions asked return’ policy in the 90s changed the rules of business dramatically. They realized that most people were honest and only returned items if they really had to. But they are not like Naked Wines , a company that opens up the supply chain of wine production and sales to the community along with a no questions asked, no cost mail-in returns policy. Each fervently believes in the customer. Each is a product of its times and the times have changed.
Certainly there is a different model for every company.
Groupon employs the social net driver to power its viral loop to acquire customers, a new twist on email marketing selling local products on a global social platform. Lululemon created a brand that drove fierce customer loyalty around the intersection of street gear and yoga clothes and good vibrations by local word of mouth (pushed by social nets) with hyper friendly in store policies, all without an online component.
But for each, a new culture fueled by new technology served a demand of the customer to sold to in a certain way–their way. Great companies figure that out. The models are endless with flexible technology as a servant to design social and personal commerce.
So what does this have to do with the traditional polarity of strategy and tactics in marketing?
Everything I think.
What is the goal of all businesses?
- At its simplest, to find a way to bring value to your customers. Certainly you need to do this is in a cost-effective, margin-positive way but without customer value all the rest is moot.
What is the goal of marketing?
- At its core, building that value chain between customer and company.
How does it get done?
- An ongoing, dynamically informed process. Smart iterative execution.
Whether you are an early stage startup with a new product or a more mature company looking to extend the line, the process of discovery will be dynamic for both. Not the same of course but dynamic execution nonetheless.
The process of discovering what you should do is tied to the idea you set out to quantify. Each will be unique. Each will be dynamic. Each will be iterative.
Traditionalist marketers will state that this is how it is always done. They are wrong.
Traditionalists will counter that this is a non-directed process. Not so.
Budgets, criteria for measuring success, timelines and resources all are essential. Just that finding the right process is the initial goal. Discovery is the focus and the customer is the group that will provide the information.
This change is empowering and the surge in entrepreneurship speaks to it.
Today you can come up with an idea, create an online space, gather those with like minds and establish a global community of people to vet your ideas with.
Today you can build a sizable community with only your friends and their friends and test ideas in a invitation only space before you ever go to market.
Today you can start with your existent business and test an extension of services or products without a public launch, with mitigated risk to your core business and gather data to make a decision with.
But this is hard to do, old paradigm or new. It has always has been a herculean task to build a new brand or a successful business or create a market out of an idea. Still is. Just that the process is different and the skills to succeed changed. And the barriers to success less about resources and more about ingenuity and early market creation.
I believe in market magic. In that ineffable ‘thing’ that happens when value and customer connect. When the chasm gets crossed. When ideas become a market reality.
Everything is different but somehow the magic is more accessible under the new order. Sure there is more noise to cut through. More competition for everything but with customer values as the clear target and social nets as marketing’s road to travel, directionally everything makes sense.
Marketing is top of mind for everyone lately…and it’s not a love fest.
This love/hate maelstrom started in February with Fred Wilson’s posts on Marketing. The three-part series generated over a thousand comments and a treasure trove of great ideas, voiced anxieties, articulate but defensive posturing and really honest queries by a host of entrepreneurs striving for just one thing…success.
Nothing could make me happier than to see this discussion raised. Like all discussions that become viral, the need was there long before the event triggered it.
Large company or start-up, the need for businesses to connect with their market is the only quotient of success. And while the methods change as the tools change as the business world evolves, the goals remain the same regardless of the tech or behavioral trends of the day.
And marketing is the architect of that connection, that capability that creates the value chain between company value and customer belief. And that’s why this discussion is so surprising…and so important.
The 1000+ comments responding to Fred’s posts, speak to a core misunderstanding and mistrust—yes, a dislike for what marketing does. I responded to scores of comments on his blog, redefining, clarifying, taking it to heart that what I do–what I truly love doing, was on trial.
But it pays to listen when the marketplace speaks, especially one as broad, as diverse, as successful as the one at avc.com. Such profound misalignment over something so basic and critical to company growth begs further thought.
This debate surfaced again this week with a post on “Why does Fred Wilson hate marketing?” by Brian Morrissey, Editor in Chief of Digiday, a marketing blog I follow. Brian states that there is a discrepancy between the world of VCs and the “…staid marketing world of selling more stuff for clients” that the rest of world worries about. These are Brian’s words about what marketing does today.
This is getting to the rub of the whole matter.
If marketers aren’t clear, the market is bound to be confused. How Brian defines marketing is out of whack with the times.
Marketing is what it has always been…the connector between product and market, between brand and belief, between the vision of an early visionary product and its first enthusiasts, and a core element of a product’s potential of finding support, distribution and a following.
The discrepancy between old-school methods and new tools is more profound now. The real-time web and huge social nets have changed everything dramatically. How we build products, find communities, discover pricing and build an ecosystem of support are completely new and changing daily. How companies connect with their customers is equally done with a brand new, not yet written playbook.
This is indisputable.
But it appears that with all the noise from market pundits on the uses of social tools, the core value of marketing has not translated to the realities of today’s business. That appears to be what the market, our customers, the commenters in Fred’s blog are telling us.
The fact that someone as savvy as Brian Morrissey is defining marketing as a loud shouting discipline from a time long gone is a true indication of the breadth of the chasm between what companies need and their perception of what marketing can offer.
Fred’s words, which he knows I disagree with, are not talking about what marketing does but how it is positioned and presented in the face of today’s socially driven world. I talk to companies every day and he is not the only one that is tired of seeing advertising positioned as the answer, budget depleting PR proposals presented to bootstrapped startups and paying for special teams to come in and save the day.
We as marketing pros are complicit here. If the thousands of smart entrepreneurs who read Fred’s blog don’t get that marketing isn’t just advertising nor big budget agencies and a crutial key to a company’s early success…hey, this our problem to be fixed and an opportunity for all sides.
Pushing old school definitions of big brand campaigns only fuels the misunderstanding. And telling those with influence like Fred and the readers of the blog they just don’t get it is like yelling at your customers if they don’t like your campaign or understand your messaging. A bit ridiculous. Certainly counterproductive.
The right path–as always– is to listen to the market.
One of the most basic rules of marketing is to make the very people whose support you most need, integral and part of the process. This could be the sales force for a lead gen program. The product group when you need to build viral hooks into the product itself. Or even the most basic, embracing your early enthusiasts on a dynamic platform to get feedback and spread the word.
Or, in this case, the world of entrepreneurs and their funders who have somehow lost touch with the value that market building thinking brings to the table.
The truth as I see it, is that while big-spend shouting and noisy campaigns have never been more purposeless, true marketing has never been more key.
Marketing in the hands of the best and there are great marketers out there today is in concert with the iterative and dynamic process of how we build product today. In fact, many of the name brand serial entrepreneurs are just that, great marketers who can manage to a P & L.
Marketing is deep in craft. The science of traffic is essential to employ (SEO and SEM). The craft of connecting a story to influencers (PR) certainly has its place. The logistical brilliance to get the impossible done or that just really smart promo at SXSW or during the marathon are all tools on the marketing belt. But…these categories of skill sets by necessity evolve to suit the times and the market, not bolted on nor grandfathered in. Or worse, presented as a must have at prices that only big brands can afford.
Every startup and every product and every community is discovered through a marketing sensibility. With literally millions of solutions and everyone globally connected online, the possibilities for massive success are dampened only by the challenges of being discovered and connecting with your market.
This wildly viral debate about marketing is a loud wake up call. And a huge opportunity.
It’s a wake up call to marketing thinkers and professionals and brilliant tacticians to pay attention. Because the market is telling them they are not buying an old school approach to a new world order of business.
It’s also a wakeup call that there is huge opportunity for marketers and entrepreneurs, as well as larger companies to figure all of this out. To demystify some of the social media mumbo jumbo, to imbue strategic market thinking with dynamic tactical excellence.
And mostly for marketing and business and product people to partner at a core level to figure out how connect value with its market.
There is no winning the argument of what marketing is or does. There is only changing the discussion to fix the problem.
New York is taking a page out of the mobile gaming and check-in space playbook to solve some large public information access problems.
The city’s challenge is to close the information gap between the millions of citizens on the street and the thousands of construction projects that impact daily city life. Simple problem; not a simple solution.
Most QR code-based projects fall prey to the chicken-and-egg conundrum. Snapping a code is easy but the information received is still incomplete, usually being developed by the users themselves. But in New York, the pieces, at least in concept are lining up. Public information is there but buried in public records. A population on foot, carrying smartphones are demanding the info. The QR code with free reader apps is the theoretical missing link to tie the process together.
An interesting if geeky article, Use of Quick Response (QR) Codes on Permits, on Mayor Bloomberg’s website opened my eyes to this QR project. It popped up in my Facebook feed the other day thanks to the inveterate NY watcher @jenxo.
Here’s the situation:
New Yorkers live in the world’s largest and most chaotic construction site. Everywhere something is being built, fixed, redone, or scaffolded. This is life since the first settlers landed on the island and started building and it continues daily. It’s noisy and messy and incessant and indecipherable.
The city needs to connect the people with the data on the fly. The numbers are large–179,00 construction permits and 33,00 after-hour variances (in 2010) for the 975,000 buildings in NYC. And millions of people on the streets and roads. Using smartphones with QR readers as the solution is a profound idea. A complex project that if it works well, breaks new ground in making real-time web apps with IR readers a solution for large scale urban information projects.
Once again, dense urban cities are the sandbox for new uses of social and mobile experiments with the web.
This is how it is designed to work:
Starting in 2013, every construction site in the city will have a QR code (like above) posted. Readable through a handful of fee apps available for smartphones, it ties into the database of construction permits for all activity in the city.
You want to know who owns the building, what is being done and the schedule for completion?
Snap the QR code.
Interested in the name, contact information, license details of the designer, architect and contractor?
Snap the QR code.
Want to know if the builder has a variance that allows horrible noisy scraping noises on Sunday morning?
Snap the QR code and find out.
Want to know why the building looks much larger than the one the community approved?
Snap the code and check out the variances.
This is a really quite cool design. This is not a new technology looking for a reason to be. This is a mobile app with a reader solving a large scale problem.
The idea is a derivation of what we all do with check-ins with FourSquare or playing mobile games. The city is adapting consumer entertainment design to democratize data access in this dense and complex urban area. The result, if it works, will be a great proof point for the humanizing capabilities of the web and technology as a tool to really better life.
Extending the paradigm if it works:
Once the infrastructure is in place, the endpoint QR codes can do almost anything. The article spoke of QR codes on public vehicles and garbage trucks linked to educational videos on YouTube rolling out now. There are endless dots of data and information to be connected in New York…and I bet most urban centers.
Logical extensions to the construction permit concept require few leaps of imagination. Restaurant and clubs applying for liquor licenses, comment sites for taxi cabs and health certificates for street vendors. New York is a complex place. Mobile technology just may be a panacea to make it a bit more understandable and arm the citizen on the street with information to be in control of their neighborhoods.
For me personally, taking great mobile apps like the MoMa iPhone app and adding a QR code is an obvious must-do for all museums and public buildings. I would love to be able to snap a code and get architectural and historical information on buildings and monuments throughout the boroughs.
QR code based solutions, I would love to see:
- QR codes on every one of the 60,000 SKUs of wine sold in the city so I can remember what I drank and find info in the store while I’m shopping or sipping at a wine bar
- QR codes on food labels and farmer market stands (especially those labeled as Organic) to search information in real time while buying groceries
- QR codes on conference badges so I know who I am talking to without asking
- QR codes on pet labels to identify owners and their vets so lost pets can be tracked to the owner or taken to a vet who knows them
There are numerous mobile apps that help us navigate our cities, be more productive and know when the next subway train is approaching. Adding the QR code with direct access to public data puts the consumer in control. This was always the dream of the social web. With QR codes and no-cost scanners and smartphones, it’s starting to come together, at least in theory.
Certainly New York is not the only city which has latched onto the QR code as a possible answer for mobile public information access. The information gap is everywhere.
If you have examples of other QR based apps or plans, I’m interested. Please share in the comments.