Monday, June 28, 2010

Life 2.0

When I was a kid, I remember how awesome renting a video game was (yes, I’m old enough to remember video stores. When I was a kid, we didn’t have Netflix). I’d play as long as my parents would allow it, then wake up SUPER early the next morning so I could beat my brothers to the SNES. I’d play and play and play, only stopping to eat and sleep. Because we only had the video game for a few days, it was important to play as much as I could to get as far in the game as possible. It was a good childhood.

Even though I no longer really play, I still like the idea of video games, how you can jump into an entirely different world for a few hours and do strange, impossible things. Luckily enough, we’re entering an age where life itself is turning into a video game. This is facilitated by mobile services and new technology, each seeming more like science fiction. Here are just a few of the relatively new services that make life just a little bit more fun. These technologies are probably going to become (or already are?) the next big things.
UPDATE: I forgot a few really interesting advances in technology, so I put them at the top.

Visual Search: This is a very new idea that is recently becoming more popular thanks to the app "Google Goggles." Still in relative infancy, this tech allows you to shoot a picture with your camera and "google it" based solely upon the picture. Right now it works best for logos and contacts, but I think that once it becomes more optimized, it will begin to recognize a lot of different objects and places (imagine it being integrated with Google Street View). In addition to this, there are other apps that can read barcodes (Goggles does this as well), so if you're looking for product information you can just use your phone to scan the barcode and Google will show you information. In addition to this, QR codes are the newest form of barcodes (they're 2D). Shoot a QR code with your camera and you'll be brought the company's website.

Facial Recognition: This technology already exists, but soon it is possible that it will be integrated into social media. Facebook has the just acquired a company that is able to tag pictures for you using facial recognition software. Google has said that it also has the technology, but is not using it yet. If these companies start to use this technology in its search engines (and I do see that happening, as an opt-in service), it could totally revolutionize search. Combining visual search, social media, and facial recognition technology would be like a new phone-book; add yourself to a directory with your social media information, and someone can use visual search or an Augmented Reality (more below) app to determine who you are, read some of your tweets, and learn a little about you. It sounds incredibly creepy, but I don't think it has to be. As long as the technology is opt-in, you'd have control over whether or not you want to be a part of it.

FourSquare: This is something I have just recently discovered in the last month or so, and man do I love it. Basically, it’s a mobile app turns your life into a video game; you get points for “checking in” to different places, and “badges” for accomplishing different tasks (check into enough different places, and you’re an explorer). FourSquare gets you to leave the house, if only to pick up on a few different points or to get that extra badge. Here’s where it starts to get interesting, and possibly worthwhile from a financial perspective. If you check-in to the same place more than any other person, you become the “Mayor,” which is awesome in its own right. However, the “hip” companies are starting to incentivize coming into their establishments by giving the Mayor a special. Starbucks was one of the first places to do it, but with a 40% month-over-month growth in users, it’s reasonable to assume lots of other places are gonna drink the FourSquare Kool-Aid (or was it Flavor Aid?) pretty quickly. And I’ll be there, ready to soak up some points and serve a second, third, or fourth term as Mayor.

Augmented Reality: Now here’s a cool idea . In one application, Augmented Reality (AR) basically turns your phone’s camera into a portal to a virtual world. Want to find a review for a restaurant? Just turn on an app like Layar and hold your camera up to that restaurant and get the review. The possibilities for technology like this is almost endless; Stella Artois has an app where you hold your camera up to find any bar that serves their beer. Other applications use your computer’s webcam to advertise products. If Wikipedia is to be trusted (and, let’s be honest, it is), we’ll see screens much like Minority Report (back when Tom Cruise wasn’t so nuts. Sorry, Knight and Day). Which brings us to another innovation….

Kinect: Nintendo launched the Wii a few years ago and changed the perception of video games and the people who played. The Wii made you get up and actually (god-forbid) EXERCISE a little (emphasis on little) bit while you were playing. It also was cheaper and easier to use than its competitors, so Nintendo was able to tap into a previously stagnant market for video games: families. It was definitely a revolution when it was released. But, the Wii still had a controller. Now, with Microsoft’s new XBOX360 add-on Kinect, you don’t even need that. Now your whole body is the controller, which opens up video gaming to a new world of interactivity. This is Microsoft saying “Put down the pork rinds and Mountain Dew, fatties, video games are ACTIVE.”

Geolocated Ads: We’re now mobile. Location-based mobile advertising is going to become one of the newest arenas in marketing. Targeting consumers based on their physical location would make advertising even more effective. If you were by a Starbucks, for example, you could get coupons for that Starbucks sent straight to your phone. It’s a much more individualized approach that would hit the right consumer at the right time, bumping up impulse purchases and making consumers more likely to buy products. Geolocated advertising is something that is going to explode with the proliferation of SmartPhones, as more and more consumers walk around with tiny computers in their pockets.

If these trends point to anything, it’s this: we no longer need to be tethered to any set geographic location to connect with the rest of the world. Call it Cordless-Existence. Life 2.0. Reality is becoming more and more virtual, which is pretty cool. The possibilities are endless in this new, video-game inspired world. I may not play videogames anymore and I certainly don’t wake up as early, but the wonder of interacting with the virtual world is still very much alive.


  1. Does anybody know how a merchant records/logs a redeemed Foursquare prize?

    Tom Koltai - Toronto, Canada