Follow @NetVideoMaker I don’t recall the first time I saw a website address, but I do recall where I first saw an icon describing the Physical Web. It was displayed on a glass door on the front of a restaurant – in a video telling the story of how the physical world and the digital world are being linked by something called the Eddystone BluetoothLE (BLE) beacon. Beacons A beacon is a small device built to emit a bluetooth radio signal repeatedly, like a lighthouse beam. The LE part refers to low energy, the secret strength of the technology, because it allows battery-powered beacons to operate for practical periods of time, from many months to several years. Your smart device is the target of these radio signals and until recently, you had to have installed an app that understood the beacon’s specific message to close the loop. Eddystone Beacons In the summer of 2015 Google changed all that by creating an open source, cross platform approach that gives beacons the ability to broadcast simple web URLs. What receives those broadcasts depends for the short term on your device type (iOS or Android) and your browser of choice. IOS users can receive URL broadcasts on the Chrome for iOS browser. Android users have a few choices, from the latest version of the Opera browser to an app called the Physical Web and soon to include the Chrome for Android browser. And incidentally, Eddystone is the name of a famous lighthouse in the British Isles. What to Expect I was hooked on the promise of beacons long before I handled one, and being hands-on has only deepened my sense that this is life-changing stuff. From advertising an apartment for rent to delivering audible information and directions to the visually impaired the Physical Web creates smart places and smart things. Importantly, it delivers only what we ask for, no buzzing in your pocket or opening an app on your phone. When you enter an area where the Physical Web has content available you might pull down your notification screen to explore it – or not. The choice is always yours. In some places you might see a list of website addresses with a bit of descriptive text, looking like this: This approach doesn’t spell the end of app development. Rather it provides a practical alternative for the many things we would welcome access to without having to install an app we might use only rarely. And I’m living proof that you don’t have to be a developer to create your own content, and change it at will. I have a small collection of Eddystone beacons, purchased in the fall of 2015. It took some trial and error but I have programmed URLs, one per beacon is the current limit, and then seen them broadcast to my Smartphone. This image shows two detected beacons with URLs I set for them: This screen appears in my Sony Xperia Z3 when I select a link in my Notifications screen, advising that there are beacons near me. At time of writing I have three beacons set with the Eddystone-URL frame type. These two were purchased direct from Sensoro in China. The third is one of three from Beaconstac in India, supplied by Sensoro. It remains programmed with its own url and I’ve been unable to alter it due to a settings problem I’m working on. My reason for describing the situation is that when I get notifications, they are always separate, one as above and the other linking only to the Beaconstac Eddystone unit. Clearly being hands-on means digging deeper. I don't know how often the advertising interval delivers a push to the Notifications screen or whether that is a parameter I am able to set. Many people are rightly concerned about security on their mobile devices, and so of course is Google. What you see in your notification screen is a proxy of the sites available. You are not linking directly to any of them. Only when you select one is your device connected to the web and to the specific site selected. Beacon manufacturers and the developers who work with their hardware are aware of the threat of hackers discovering a way to “spoof” a beacon, hiding bad stuff under a reputable address and new versions of develop kits often include increased protections. While I’ve seen no guarantees that hacking is impossible, Google’s @ScottJenson, their man on the Eddystone file, seems pretty confident that security is tight. Use Case The scope of use cases already identified is remarkable and growing constantly. One that I’m evaluating is the creation of beacon networks. Imagine a grocer offering advertising on a beacon in the breakfast aisle or a liquor store selling beacon access to a wine brand, or a commercial neighbourhood “renting” beacon access to restaurants, stores and attractions. All any user needs is content behind a URL. Of course there will be large players, already are large players, assembling networks in shopping malls to name one growing area of commerce, but perhaps there’s a place for ingenious little guys too? Time will tell. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.