Speaking Beacon

Late last September, I published a LinkedIn article entitled “Why Can’t You Program Your Beacon For Free?” Since then I’ve discovered that you can – and I have. I am speaking of a BluetoothLE beacon, a small, very low energy (LE) radio transmitter the signal from which can be received by most of the smart devices we carry with us. More specifically I am speaking of what’s known as an Eddystone-compliant beacon, distinguished from Apple’s original iBeacon in one major way – it can broadcast a simple web address, or URL, which means that a mobile web browser can be enabled to receive and respond to that signal without involving a custom app. Any content the web can present becomes available to anyone with a properly equipped mobile device wherever the beacon owner wants to present it. I could build a web page with information on the car you want to sell, put the URL on a beacon, put it in the car and advertise 24/7 to anyone passing by with the right gear. Google created Eddystone and has announced that in Q1 of 2016 it will release a version of the Chrome browser for Android that will beep discreetly once when it receives a BLE broadcast. You may ignore it or check it out at your discretion. This, brothers and sisters, makes all the difference. You don’t have to look but you will know that there’s something to look at. Fluently speaking beacon is likely to take you some time. When I began my quest I looked for existing use cases. The first of them came from retail, and introduced me to two concepts essential to getting the beacon promise. They are “proximity” and “context”. Beacons can send their signal out a fair distance, 50 – 100 meters according to the literature. But they can also be adjusted to cover far less distance, a kind of “here, near and far” arrangement that does two things. It extends battery life and makes a signal available only when the receiver gets close enough. That’s the “proximity” piece. Returning to the retail environment here’s what that could mean:  One beacon with a long throw tells you that you’ve almost reached the entrance, and describes a reward for doing so.  Beacons inside the store identify your location, “know” that you’re in the electronics area and near the TVs. Stand there for half a minute and you’ll receive information on a TV special, you might even have that TV switch to a video describing its features and offering a price for acting now. That’s the “context” piece. If you’re where you are, and have stopped moving for a while, maybe you’ll be interested in this, whatever it is. If you think about it, what I’ve just described seems a bit more complex than just putting a URL out there. And it is. That’s an example of the challenge to fluently speaking beacon. There’s the DIY level, there’s the rent a platform level where you DIY with a tool set in the cloud and there’s the room full of developers level where just about anything you can afford you can have. DIY I’ll be brief. I purchased Eddystone-compliant beacons of Chinese manufacture. The maker made a free app available from Google Play. With it I could access each beacon’s settings and edit them. In my case that meant just assigning a URL to each one. My purpose was to learn how to get that far so I selected common URLs like CNN.com. Once I was done I was sitting in a space where five beacons were constantly transmitting what’s called an advertising packet, in my case twice a second. When I pull down the notification screen on my smartphone I see a message telling me that there are beacons nearby. If I choose to investigate I get a screen like this: Show_five_beacons504 I am fairly fluent in WordPress and have built several sites with it, so creating content with a URL and assigning that to a beacon is easily within my abilities. So yes, I could sell your car or put a beacon on your dog’s collar that would tell anyone who found her who to call. Rent a Platform An increasing number of startups are developing offers that allow someone like myself to create more sophisticated content than text and images. For example, I might use a platform to create a coupon with a bar code that a cash register scanner could read. Now I’m able to sell my services to a supermarket, create branded content, map the resulting URL to a beacon and put it in the deli department. Beeem_beta_coupon_titled Some platforms will allow me to change the content assigned to that URL from the cloud. I can sit in my office and tell a beacon that for the next six hours it’s going to offer this instead of that. I can also offer the supermarket owner the chance to rent ad space on his beacon network – so suppliers can put their coupons, recipes, contests and so on in front of shoppers who get close enough. One such beta I’m involved in now allows the creation of coupons, information screens, voting and direct access to existing web content, something a supplier might welcome if it has a campaign running online. Conclusion Beacons are already improving life for vision-impaired individuals by offering audio content descriptive of the physical environment, from navigating an airport to touring a museum. They are renting apartments and advertising events, linking event-goers and providing session times and places and yes, helping to find lost pets. A beacon on a laptop, smartphone, purse or piece of luggage can alert you if you walk too far away from it. One use case drew a safe zone around kids at a beach and alerted parents if they left that zone. It may be a couple more years, but if you live you’ll be speaking beacon with the rest of us. 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.
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