Tag Archives: Foursquare

Scanning your Life

It is not often that someone shows me something in tech that makes me go “WOW!, that’s cool”.  I had such a moment recently when I met Jonathan Bulkeley, CEO of ScanBuy.  Regular readers of this blog know that I rarely promote products and services, but rather just give my “guy on the street” views.

Unless you are George Bush Senior, you know that there are barcodes on everything.  There are the ubiquitous  1-D UPC codes that you see in the supermarket and a host of new 2-D barcodes.  With the inclusion of barcode readers in smartphones (my Android is very capable in this area) you can go to a store, scan the barcode and be linked to product information websites, Google shopper, Amazon, etc.  You can do instant online price comparison in a store, and if you like purchase the product.  It seems that stores are catching on and are starting to put there own barcodes on products that then links back to their own website, not a competitor’s.  This is not the “WOW” part.  I’ve been doing store scanning  for some time.  Its fun and seems to thoroughly annoy sales staff (and sometimes my wife!)

The company that Bulkeley runs is the one that produces the Android app that I use to scan barcodes.  You can think of a barcode as a web url that directs the application to go to some specific website or activate an application.  You can imagine that the directory service of linking codes to a website is an interesting business area.

Now for the “WOW” moment.

When I was talking to Bulkeley,  he showed me his business card that had a 2-D barcode on the back.  He said, “go ahead scan it”.  When I scanned it, the application opened up the contact manager on my phone and auto-populated all of his details and asked me to confirm.  That was WOW.

You see ScanBuy and its consumer facing ScanLife website gives you the opportunity to have your own personal 2-D barcodes that link to a website or launch a contact application.  There are codes you can make for websites, phone numbers, SMS, Twitter, and even a menu of items.

Here is my contact 2-D Barcode:

And here is another that links to my personal Website:

And yet another that I made to link to my favorite Youtube video. I bet you can’t guess which one?

You can even change the destination website of any barcode on the ScanLife website.  If you have a smartphone with a ScanLife application, you can scan these codes directly from your computer screen.

He told me his daughter has a barcode on her dorm door and changes the website with her mood and likes.

I could envision a whole new market in fraternities, sororities and dorms.  No need to put a piece of clothing on the door knob as the signal of an “overnight” guest.   Just make sure your roommate scans before he enters!

But as they say – Wait –there’s more to this story….

A day later I was taking the train back to New Jersey from New York.  The train was full and I was sitting alone in two facing seats.  Three others came to occupy the other spots.  There were two young women – maybe 22 – one with bright purple hair and lots of interesting body art and the other very blonde and pixie-like.  Their androgynous boyfriend rounded out the group.  Needless to say, I did not have much in common or much to say as the went on about their art exhibits and music performances.  This was not the “Hey! how about those Yankees?” crowd. And I was not up on the latest exhibit in the Village.

This all changed when Miss Pixie took out her Android phone.  Ah!, now something of a connection.  We had a long discussion on apps and her favorites. Her two interesting friends also had Androids, but older models (at least 6 months) and seemed behind the curve.   Pixie liked the same apps I did.  I am not sure what to conclude from that, so moving on…..

She had Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Skype and Google Navigation.  Her really favorite “cool” app was, you guessed it –  ScanLife.  She did not even know the name of the company, just that she could use it when she shopped.

At this point her rather purple,  pierced  and tattooed friend perked up and said , “I always wanted to get a barcode tatoo.”

Not wanting to waste a good promotion opportunity for Mr. Bulkeley’s company, I explained how she could have her own personal barcode that linked to something that she could pick, and even change.  She was delighted and copied down the info.

For this group of avant-garde artists, it was one more cool thing to adorn their body with , and something they could scan with their phones.

The train pulled into my stop and my new friends, who were brought together by our Droids and barcodes, parted ways.

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Augmented Reality? Really?

I have tried over 100 apps on my new Super-Droid, the HTC Incredible.  One of the more interesting and  hyped areas is that of Augmented Reality.  Here is the  Wikipedia definition for AR –

Augmented reality (AR) `is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.”

On my Droid, most AR applications are a mash-up of GPS, Google search, camera viewing, compass heading and overlay visuals.   The overlays are anything from tourist locations, buildings, roads, bars, restaurants, and of course Starbucks.   You look at your phone as the phone’s camera looks at the world and adds its own heads up display (HUD).

While these apps have an “Ubber-Cool” factor, AR does not yet seem to have found its mainstream raison d’être.  Its fun to show your friends and get them to say  -“ooo”, and “ah”, but then what?

Who is going to walk around holding their 4 inch screen in front of them while looking for something and following an arrow in their AR world?  All sorts of enhanced navigation programs, either for driving, walking, hiking or public transit already exist with great mapping displays.  The potential fro AR is likely huge in the future as the applications further develop.  But for now, it is early days.

If you want to try out AR for and judge for yourself here are 5 programs you can download for free on a Droid.

-Layar

A Legal Neighbor listed as a "Bar" - needs some work..

Layar  (get it –  LayAR) is an environment that permits others to development AR functionality on displays and maps. It is in essence an AR aggregation platform – an AR browser- that is mostly ad supported with some premium subscription services.  I can use my virtual Droid HUD to find everything from apartments, nearby Tweeters, Foursquare locations,  local wikipedia entries and even the weather.  Weather?  Yep – look through the HUD and see an AR cloud superimposed in your view with the temperature on it.  There is even a weather app for tornado warnings.   If you have to look through the phone to determine you are looking at a Tornado, its may be Darwin Award time.

A Landmark on Foursquare

Just because you can do something with technology does not mean you have to do it!  Similar to overall smartphone apps, let a million apps bloom and something good will happen.

Here is the web catalog of all Layar powered AR apps.

-Laser Level

The program superimposes perpendicular red “laser” lines in your HUD to help you straighten that picture you just hung.  The app works pretty good, but not really efficient for hanging pictures and I would still want my contractors to use a physical level.

-3D Compass

This app floats a compass and a map on your screen, along with speed and altitude.

Its fun to play with this app when I take NJ Transit into NYC.  For the record, the trains hit a top speed of around 60 mph, New York is east of New Jersey, and the train rarely gets airborne.

-Zagat NRU

This is a curious app that displays all Zagat rated venues within circular range bands, arranged by compass heading.  Its great to showpeople, but then what?  Okay gang lets go to this new Italian restaurant; we have to walk at 37.6 degrees  NNE for 1.5 km?

-NYC Wayfinder

Hold up your HUD display and it will point out subway entrances.  Does it also paint a target on your back and add a European carry-all to you, virtually?

The potential for AR applications exists and like any technology in its early phases, many potential uses will be explored.  What is amazing is how relatively easy it is to make this apps with the basic tools and capabilities of the Android (and yes, iPhone too)

What will the killer AR apps be?  I have two predictions for AR apps.

My first prediction is for massive multi-user, AR enhanced games.  Pick your favorite version of Human/Zombie, Capture the Flag, etc –   and have all the players be able to track each other in an AR enhanced world and even “shoot” each other and record “hits”, all in augmented reality.  This can take the collaborative gaming experience of the XBOX 360 and get everyone outside actually running around and exercising.  Just like kids did before computer games.  Ironic…..  Of course this is what he U.S. military does, for real. So who would be most motivated to fund and produce such an app?

Another interesting app, assuming the key development enabler of cheap AR viewing glasses will be virtual tours.  Instead of holding a small screen, view the AR world all the time?  I could easily see tourists using these to get around various venues and even have embedded virtual tour guides pointing out local areas of interest.  Imagine visiting the ancient Roman port of Caesarea in Israel and having your virtual guide enhance your view to show you what it really looked like 2000 years ago – virtually. For Real.

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“Where” is that Secret Facility on Foursquare?

One of the really interesting aspects of smartphone apps is the innovation and product mutation process.  Over the past couple of weeks I have downloaded over 100 apps on my Droid.  Some apps were good, many were not.  With the exception of Skydroid (99 cents), all were free.  For the record the Skydroid golf GPS program worked really well on my recent golf outing.  It did not help my game at all, but it was useful ad fun to use.

"Where" Local Information Portal

One of the more interesting and useful apps I have been using is “Where”.   “Where” aggregates all the most important mobile search and information functions in one app that utilizes your location for giving you the most relevant results.    Weather, News (including micro local news!), Places (a combination of restaurants, hotels, shopping, bars, etc), Movies, Gas prices, Yellow Pages, Traffic, and even a dedicated icon for the nearest Starbucks.  For the city-folk, it includes an app to locate a Zip Car.  All of these come with easy lists, or are searchable via text or voice input.

Instead of going into several dedicated apps to do the same “on the fly” searches, you can just stay within the “Where” dashboard.   They also have a widget for the Droid that will give you the latest alert on any of the categories you have displayed.  The widget still needs some work, but is useful.

There is a similar function to “FourSquare” that encourages venue checkin and reviews. Foursquare is  the much bigger app for the “hey look where I’ve been crowd”, but “Where” should be watched.

What is interesting about both “Where” and “Foursquare” is how they took a

Foursquare places near me - Interesting...

working model on mobile and morphed it into something more useful.   “Where” actually went backwards to go forward.  They observed that the single function search and LBS apps were good but cumbersome to use in a real life use case.  For example, let’s find a movie to see, a place to eat and maybe a club later on.  “Where” handles that use case.  “Where” re-invented the information portal.

For the record I have no idea what the top secret Delta Facility or the Mothership are in my list.  But I will now have to check them out!  If this is my last blog article you will know why!

My Mother's Day Trip - on Foursquare

Foursquare capitalized on the fascination with Twitter and tweeting your status and focused it on venues.  This creates a social scene network.  Where are your friends?  Do you want to see them?  What do they think of that bar, restaurant, deli, etc?  It is a real time social networking app that is part Twitter, part Zagat’s, and part dating and hook-up.  Foursquare also uses location based services to locate you and give you a list of close by venues for you to check-in.

Both of these apps are using geo-located search technology to make their apps very easy to use.  They are both ad supported.  “Where” has a coupon tray for local coupons on products and services.  They both provide functionality that is superior to a vanilla Google search.

So what do they need to move to the big time?

Foursquare is clearly in the Zagat space.  Foursquare is what the mobile version of Zagat should be.  Foursquare and Zagat announced a partnership in February.  The combined application should be interesting!  To the leading edge augmented reality crowd –  yes I have tried Zagat on NRU – its very cool and the whole subject of augmented reality will be the topic of a future article.

“Where” needs the venue reviews and overall utilization that Foursquare and Zagat enjoy.  Additionally “Where” can benefit from the social networking features of Foursquare.   What I am not to subtly suggesting is that while Foursquare and “Where” have definitely moved the bar (no pun intended 🙂 ) , they are much more compelling together, and eventually even more compelling in a real partnership with Zagat.

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