The State of the Beacosystem

When Google announced the Eddystone beacon protocol in the summer of 2015 the idea that the digital and physical worlds could be linked by broadcasting a URL from a small, inexpensive, Bluetooth low energy wireless beacon caused great excitement and launched numerous start-ups. The initial use cases were largely around retail, with large stores and shopping malls introducing discounts and loyalty programs that visitors could receive on their (Android) Smartphones.

Google was understandably obsessed with delivering passive messages, with users having to opt in to avoid spammy notifications popping up on phones just because they got close to a beacon. And this is where things got bogged down. Two years down the road those of us on the sidelines and those with skin in the game have become frustrated that the vision hasn’t arrived, particularly for those who’ve persuaded prospects to sit for demos that don’t work. Some of the early players have gone under, others have merged or sold and the use cases that are rolling out are in areas like asset tracking versus advertising.

The situation might cause one to forget that since Apple introduced the iBeacon protocol in 2013 beacons have worked perfectly well when tied to apps. And Eddystone has that ability in addition to the URL broadcast capability. Beacons work well with apps because users choose to install apps and to give them various permissions, including recognizing specific beacon broadcasts when in range. But the promise of Eddystone was “no app required”, a powerful potential yet to be realized.

What is the future for beacons? Steve Stadler thinks he knows. In June of 2013 Steve published “Beacon Technologies: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Beacosystem”. Researching for the book he interviewed a host of key players and released the content in a series of videos. Today, he is S.V.P of Wiliot, a semiconductor company working to perfect batteryless beacons, drawing their energy from the radio waves that surround us virtually everywhere. In an interview with the company’s video producer, and former Cisco colleague, Steve lays out his vision for the future of the beacosystem.

  • Beacons in the Enterprise
  • Beacons Everywhere
  • Beacons in Everything
  • Beacons in Advertising
Within the first nine minutes of the interview, Steve identifies and expands upon these four predictions, the second and third born of miniaturization and currently developing batteryless hardware, a focus of Wiliot, which sponsors his podcasts. He goes on to identify what he believes is holding back speedier adoption in those areas.  Why don't I let him tell it?

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NFC Tags Explained

Two years ago I began buying Bluetooth Beacon starter kits, excited by the promise of a Physical Web, a way to explore the world around us by choosing to receive nearby content on our smartphones, coming from small, inexpensive Bluetooth radio transmitters, or Beacons. This week I received my first order to NFC tags, programmable sticks and key rings that virtually any Smartphone can "read" with the same native NFC capability that makes Apple and Android Pay work. The sticker versions are made of sturdy PVC, nearly the thickness of a credit card, with a sticky backing you can use on anything but metal, at least in the case of the "Whiztags" product I purchased from Amazon. Using an app called NFC Tools one may "write" to a sticker, choosing from a laundry list of content from phone numbers to social media links, SMS messages, text lists (what's in this box I packed six months ago?) and so on. Once you select an option and add the related content you simply bring your phone close to a tag and bingo, it's ready to present that content to any Smartphone brought close to it with NFC enabled. Visit Whiztags, an Aussie startup selling quality product from sample kits to bulk (and custom) tags for suggestions on how to use NFC tags. Download the NFC Tools app for Android. If you're an iPhone user you'll have to wait a while for an app to write to your tags, but you can read an NFC tag as long as you have it enabled.

Formulating Content for the Physical Web

The Physical Web is a Google initiative making possible the linking of places, things and people with web content. It involves two pieces of hardware, a small device called a beacon and a variety of smart devices able to receive Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radio emissions. Set a beacon to broadcast a URL (a web address) and enable the smart device to receive and understand the message being broadcast. My personal collection of Eddystone BLE beacons has reached around two dozen units from four manufacturers. I have set each to broadcast a unique URL and some I change occasionally with a specific demo prospect in mind. I have lately been thinking about BIAs as prospects for several reasons, including: • a membership heavy on sidewalk merchants and service providers, and • the potential to “rent” a beacon network to brands, events and retailers, to name a few likely advertisers. I thought to link a prospect BIA’s website to a beacon and include it in the demo. It displayed properly on my smartphone but something about that created an itch that needed scratching. As often happens to me, the answer presented itself in the middle of the night. In some number of cases the content developed to appear in a successful search is quite different from the content an owner would want to present through a discovery on the Physical Web. Proximity and Context bia_discovery600Take the BIA for example. A web search in Google or otherwise would likely come from a member, a prospective member or a local resident. The content presented would be useful to each, whether a membership directory, information on fees and services or upcoming events within the boundaries of the Improvement Area. But if I’m standing on the sidewalk, pull down my notification shade and see a link to the BIA site, what do I hope to see? Probably a menu that presents categories like “Food and Drink”, “Groceries”, “Shopping”, “Special Events”, “Theatres” and so on. I’d want to be able to select one and drill down to select Italian or Pub or Thai and I’d want a map or directions to each. I might want the link to open with a “You Are Here” spot, easy to do when the beacon I’ve discovered is in a fixed location. BIA management would, or should, see an opportunity here to sell membership based on inclusion in the discovery, and perhaps even banner ads or feature coverage, whether sold or offered on some rotation to interested members. I have used the word “discovery” more than once and perhaps an explanation is called for. Google’s approach to revealing Physical Web content intends it to be a passive experience, one the device user requests as opposed to having a phone vibrate or emit a tone. So you discover Physical Web content by swiping a screen to look for it. It is obvious in the image above that links discovered on the Physical Web appear very much like those in a search results page. When we use existing content the discovery includes the same text (metadata) a search presents. It’s not helpful to someone standing on the sidewalk. A further advantage to custom content for the Physical Web is the ability to write the metadata you would want the visitor to see. I know of a couple of third parties whose online dashboards provide a canvas for creating “cards” where words and increasingly images may be married to a link. This solution provides the opportunity to increase the likelihood of a visitor engaging with your content over some other beacon’s message. The “Now” Factor The only people who will see content on the Physical Web are those close enough to a beacon to receive its broadcast. So, by definition, most of the content presented should be relevant to here and now. That is of course why so much early content came in the form of a coupon or other offer to be used or taken up now. A useful feature of the Bluetooth beacon is the ability to set “working hours”. If a beacon is advertising a free cookie with a large coffee it shouldn’t be doing so when the coffee shop is closed. If an offer is good until four pm it should disappear at 4:01. The Physical Web has a unique advantage over every other form of marketing messaging I can think of in that the content available from any given beacon may be changed in seconds without touching the device. And with the right supplier, you don’t need a developer in the loop. Conclusion There is nothing inherently wrong with starting a beacon campaign with existing web content. Any positive message discoverable by nearby prospects beats silence. But the most effective messaging will result from giving thought to delivering the best possible experience. That isn’t always a deal. A new beacon user could do worse than to consider extending the reach of popular social media content to the beacon platform. Once a candidate for beacon messaging understands the opportunity, appropriate messages suggest themselves and the more time you spend in the space the more you see and can evaluate the merit of other user’s choices. 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.

Phy.Net’s New Cover Card for Eddy Beacon Broadcasting

The initial exciting promise of Google's Eddystone-URL was that a beacon could broadcast a website address. Until that day about one year ago beacon broadcasts were directed to native apps. This was and remains a great capability for those who can afford to build and maintain an app that users value enough to return to often. But there are so many other situations in which useful or otherwise engaging content would be valued even if discovered just once. That Eddystone-URL does this so well has engendered some number of commercial efforts to improve upon the engagement and utility of delivering a web experience via beacon broadcast. My first encounter with a content creation platform specifically designed for the Physical Web came from an invitation to join a beta from Beeemapp. Using their cloud dashboard I could create cards or landing pages (the language varies) offering coupon, information and voting options which I could brand visually, include bar codes, images and text and then copy an assigned URL to direct a beacon to link to the content I made. At the same time as I was feeling my way around Beemapp I was much impressed with a cloud platform from Phy.Net, whose approach allowed for attaching a URL to any beacon registered to my account, and changing it on the dashboard in seconds - never any need to physically handle the beacon in order to check and change its settings. I have written about my experience with both cloud platforms here. This post is about a new feature just released by Phy.Net and it's a beauty. CoverCard600 Behold the "Cover Card". a creation within Phy.Net's cloud platform that "covers" whatever URL you provide in the creation process. At time of writing only a logo will appear when discovered in an Android mobile device. iOS devices will see a larger image assuming one was used. Clearly one was in the image above, from Phy.Net's site. CoverCard-Toms-Specials600 So I created a cover card today. The image above is a crop of what my Android phone displays when I swipe down the notification screen. (The red bars are my addition). If you compare the image to the one provided by Phy.Net you will note the similarity - a logo, and custom meta data below, but no larger image because they are available only to iOS devices for a few more weeks. Were I to click on the link I'd be taken to the retailer's specials page, which changes frequently. In this example, setting the cover card URL to a beacon means being able to change the meta data at will, and the image, without changing the destination month after month. Here's how the card looks in the dashboard's preview: CoverCard-from-inside-dashboard-Toms-Specials600 It's probably worth mention that while the URL phy.net provides is secure, the URL I've provided "under" the cover is not. So, the Chrome browser will not display the retailer's specials page. The "Physical Web" app will. This is likely going to be the best thing that ever happened to https. Use it, migrate to it, or forget discovery from Google. Cover Cards offer a way to pop out from any screen filled with beacon discoveries and when they can display a large image in Android I predict they're going to get very hot very fast. Well done, Phy.Net. 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.

Eddystone Beacon Starter Kits

My quest continues for hands-on experience with Eddystone Bluetooth Smart beacons. So, I recently ordered starter kits from two of the highest profile manufacturers – Estimote and Kontakt.io. Each contained three beacons and each landed in Toronto at about CDN$120. Estimote The Estimote Development kit I received included three beacons, a small sticky card with coloured bits under a clear plastic sheet (use remains unknown), a baby business card from a co-founder and on the back side of the book cover-like box top, advice that the beacons were already turned on and that I should download the app to move on. In brief, I connected via the app with each beacon in turn, changing the URL assigned to one of my choosing and fiddling with the ad interval and signal strength settings. The settings screens presented in the app are very similar to those produced in my Sensoro beacons using the Sensoro app. It may be of interest to note that while each manufacturer’s app will find all Eddystone beacons in the space, settings can only be changed “in the family”. Trying to alter settings on an Estimote beacon with a Sensoro app will invite a password request, preventing most troublemakers from changing the URL you selected. I visited the cloud panel or dashboard where each beacon appeared with some settings information, including the goo.gl-shortened URLs each is broadcasting. To be clear, I shortened my selected URLs at goo.gl. It is possible that the app might have done that for me. I didn’t test that. EstimoteCloud800 I quickly discovered no way to alter the URL from the dashboard, so wrote Estimote about it and was told that, no, this kit didn’t contain beacons with that ability. That was the other kit at just under twice the price. Nothing I read about either kit before placing my order hinted at that particular difference. It isn’t of great consequence to me because I did not specifically buy this or any other kit with a large installation in mind. I just wanted the experience offered by each from set up to discovery on my phone. Chrome for Android will discover none of these because I did not choose secure URLs (https). The Physical Web app sees them clearly. Before moving on to Kontakt I want to mention two points of comparison between my Estimote beacons and those I received from BKONConnect in Nashville, TN, the only supplier of the three located in North America. That is one of two reasons for their hardware being considerably less expensive to land. The BKON product was not “turned on” when shipped. With each beacon the kit included two AAA batteries and a screwdriver for removing the back panel to install the batteries. As their founder pointed out in a tweet, installing the batteries yourself is the only way to ensure fresh, full battery life. The second point of difference is that the Estimote beacons in this kit cannot be set without physical contact. The BKON (and Kontakt) beacons can. Visit my congratulatory tweet to BKONConnect after receiving their kit. Kontakt Their kit includes three beacons and a card with what they call an Order ID taped to a white space on the printed card, obviously a simple way to use the same card for every kit shipped. The card includes a link to get started. It went nowhere. Not having been born yesterday I navigated my way to a page that did work and opened an account. Meanwhile, I downloaded their app, from my desktop to my phone. Then I searched for directions on how to activate my beacons. Step One. Enter your Order ID. Step Two. Select “Add Devices”. When I made that selection I was advised to enter a correct Order ID. I had. I was concerned about a notation next to the space for making that entry, one that cautioned that this ID could only be used once. Eventually, through their support, I discovered that I had previously logged in with a different email address. When I used Facebook to log in I discovered that my three beacons were already registered to me. kontakt_panel800 Selecting the pencil icon next to any beacon opens a new screen where settings including URL may be changed and saved. Initially, nothing I did caused any of the beacons to appear in my Physical Web app with new URLs. The default Kontakt URL stubbornly held the ground. Finally, I realized that I had to "syncronize" the settings using the app available through the app store. One hopefully helpful note: entering "Kontakt" into Google Play brings up nothing useful. You need to use "Kontakt.io" to get what you need. My experience with Kontakt has been somewhat frustrating. Most recently I entered the settings for one of the three beacons, and finding that the URL set was not one I assigned, tried to change it. After entering a goo.gl shortened URL I selected "Apply Configuration". I was told we were syncing with the Kontakt cloud, the text went from grey to black, signalling an end to the process - but the URL that appeared was an older goo.gl, one that when I first looked had defaulted back to a Kontakt URL. I was eventually successful in adding my Facebook profile, shortened in goo.gl, but it was neither straightforward nor quick. Summary Both kits provide the opportunity to test the hardware and associated apps and dashboards. Both make possible organizing a demo and for prospects of yours who do not have a secure website, it is not the fault of either kit maker that the mobile Chrome browser won't discover them. The Physical Web app will but eventually you'd have to have the conversation about securing the site in order to make discovery more mainstream. At this point I'm leaning toward BKONConnect's solution, having found their dashboard friendliest of the three. 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.

The Apps’ New Competition – Progressive Web Apps

Applications (apps) intended to be installed on Smartphones and tablets have been around for years. App Stores first appeared in 2008 and quickly became busy destinations. In 2013 Apple released a protocol known as iBeacon and various manufacturers built devices supporting the protocol in fulfilling its purpose of broadcasting a radio signal over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) which could be received by Smartphones and other mobile devices. (BLE, unlike previous versions of Bluetooth, has a tiny impact on battery life if turned on all day.) Apple introduced iBeacons to its retail stores and other retailers followed suit. In general terms, the purpose was to alert users of an Apple app that there was content available nearby. When thinking about iBeacons, it is helpful to remember that they are recognized by an app, to which the user gave certain permissions at the time of install. Those permissions might include the right to know your location, your name and other personal details, and this information allows the app provider to build a database about you – when and how often you visit, what you purchased, how long you were in the store, how you moved through the space and more. In return for divulging your personal identity, you are likely to receive offers, loyalty points, expanded product information and other value adds both in and away from the store. Apple’s iBeacon versus Google’s Eddystone Until the summer of 2015 the Apple iBeacon standard owned the road. Then Google introduced a protocol they named “Eddystone”, after a legendary British lighthouse. While Apple’s protocol is proprietary, Eddystone is open source, with several frame sets, the key one being Eddystone-URL. A beacon running the Eddystone protocol can be made to broadcast a URL, a web address that anyone suitably equipped (on both Android and iOS mobile devices) may receive, discover and choose to visit or not. And herein lies the key distinction between the two protocols. iBeacon needs a dedicated app to receive its broadcast. Eddystone’s signal can be received by the Chrome browser, the Opera browser, with others coming onboard. Dedicated apps are costly to develop, costly to persuade people to install, take up space on both the screen and in onboard storage, and only serve one master, which means the user has to be really attached to the app provider. Otherwise, the app will be ignored and likely deleted to make room for something else. Eddystone requires only the browser Android users are likely to have, and that’s more than a billion people. And the Chrome for iPhone version will receive Eddystone broadcasts too. App-less discovery of beacon-delivered content nearby is a game changer, and Google’s recent initiative, Progressive Web Apps, takes it to a new level. Google has created a toolkit for developers that allows the creation of websites that look and function like apps, including features like an icon on the phone’s home screen and offline functionality. What they don’t require is installation or updating because at heart they are delivered to the phone from the web. Here’s an example: washingtonPost_PWA225 washingtonpost_send2phone600 This is the splash screen of the progressive web app created for The Washington Post. You can fetch it yourself from here. As you can see from the invitation below, accessing this content requires only a link, not an app install. And once you’ve clicked on the link sent to your phone you can choose to place an icon on your home screen, providing virtually identical access as to any real app you’ve installed. The PWA delivers on the promise of near-instant load times and scrolling shows virtually no lag. The jury is still out on how much content you can access once you’ve gone offline. I got some but not all. But further to the plus side, these apps never need updating, don’t take storage space and can be created at a cost that makes the solution affordable to many prospects that might not want to take on the cost of a custom app and the effort to get it adopted by a large enough audience who then must get attached to it or the effort is in vain. According to Google, every step in an app install decreases the number of people who will complete the process. From 1,000 who begin the process, something like 240 will complete the installation, and the number who go on to regularly use the app is deeply depressing to developers. As the politicians like to say, “make no mistake about it.” This development will be huge over time. Imagine receiving a beacon notification on your mobile Chrome browser inviting you to click through to content like the invitation above. In two clicks you have the PWA available. If the revolution in proximity, place and context has you by the throat, check back here from time to time. We’re on the story. 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.

Progressive Web Apps for the Physical Web

Less than a year after introducing the open source Eddystone protocol for Bluetooth Smart beacons, Google has made impressive progress toward making easier the discovery of the URLs the beacons transmit, with more improvement to come. The company shows no inclination to create push notifications, as iBeacon apps are likely to do, but it is preparing a version of its Chrome mobile browser to discover beacon transmissions by default. Another evolving story involves creating fast, robust, app-like experiences built using modern web capabilities - physical web apps. In removing much of the cost of entry for the capabilities offered by native apps Google is providing a means for virtually any business to compete like a big boy. These web apps can be enabled to work offline and can provide a home screen icon that makes them as easy to return to as Facebook or any other app on your mobile device. The video below might go into more detail than non-coders (like me) will find useful but it does provide an excellent description of the promise involved - complete with a functional example. 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.

Beacon Management Services

Reading my most recent post on Eddystone beacon settings reminded me that I've taken a further step since penning that pearl. I connected with Phy.net, a platform in beta that provides a proprietary URL for use with an Eddystone beacon. The URL is a placeholder of sorts, since in the dashboard you're free to connect any real-world URL to it, click save and have the beacon broadcast a link to that URL. A picture is in order: Phy_Net_dashboard600 Focus on the last line in the image. There's a checkbox, an on/off switch and a bolded URL. That's assigned by Phy.net. To the right is a URL I entered, in this case, my Twitter page. Were I to bring the beacon to a meeting, or just carry it around town, savvy folk looking for beacon notifications would see it on their mobile devices and could check me out and follow me if they had the urge. The magic of this approach is that once you set a beacon with a Phy.net URL, you don't have to handle it again. Changing the content it delivers is as easy as changing the URL it connects to in the dashboard. The platform is promising a content creation tool in the future which makes it a super power. Create cards. from discount offers to descriptions of museum pieces, connect them to the proprietary URL and launch them into the world, to change at will. There will be competitors of course, but right now they're looking pretty persuasive. Chrome naturally isn't cooperating with my desire to show you how it displays the link I've created in Phy.net, so I'll show you the preview I get in the dashboard before I save the URL change: PhyNetDisplay600 This is what it looks like in the Physical Web app, Android version, available freely at Google Play: Twitter_on_PhysicalWeb600 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.

Empire Club Segment

Mike, this is what I can do without a copy of the original file. I hope it works for you. If so, I'd suggest that the post start with something like "A shameless plug" from Ontario's Minister of Finance for Tom's Place. I've always favoured headlines that reveal the pearl even when the reader doesn't go any further.

DIY Eddystone Beacon Settings -Beyond the URL

How successful would I be at getting your attention by blowing a dog whistle? Not very unless you were already aware of me. The Physical Web has much the same problem. Bluetooth LE (BLE) radio broadcasts are “there”, but invisible unless you possess the tools to receive them, the dog-ears if you will. When Apple introduced the iBeacon in 2013 the idea was that a custom app would recognize a given beacon’s ID and present content to the device holder. A beacon in this environment, with user permission at time of install, could wake up an app to deliver content. But app development can be prohibitively expensive for many otherwise interested parties, and with so many apps available, offering device real estate to any given option can be a hard sell. So, when Google introduced the Eddystone-URL protocol, requiring initially just one app for any available content, it generated considerable excitement. Eddystone-URL enables a beacon to broadcast a simple web address or URL. The promise is that a variety of mobile browsers will enable detection of the broadcast and display the address. Chrome for iOS can do it now. Opera for Android makes the same claim. The Physical Web app does it for Android and in early 2016 Chrome for Android mobile will offer the feature. As big as that is, the even bigger news is that it will beep discreetly just once when it becomes aware of content nearby. No need for dog-ears. You can ignore it but at least you will know there’s content available. The DIY Piece This development allows for a near future where we can “surf” reality, where the digital and physical realms connect. What excited me when this opportunity began to sink in is that almost anyone could participate. For example, I could create a web page to sell something, like my car or my guitar. I could edit my beacon’s settings to broadcast the address of that web page. I could put that beacon in my car and advertise to anyone walking near, provided that they meet the specs – a Bluetooth LE receiver (like a Smartphone) with Bluetooth enabled and the desire to look. I needed proof of concept and with beacon purchases, a few dead ends and hours of reading I got it. Around my keyboard as I write this are five Eddystone-compliant beacons, each broadcasting a different URL. When I pull down the notification screen on my Android phone I see a notice that there are beacons nearby. If I click that notice I will usually see between two and four lines that resemble search results, each of them clickable. Why I don’t see five every time is a function of settings and battery conservation, of which I will say more a bit later in the piece. When I do see all five here’s what it looks like: Show_five_beacons I chose common sites, mostly with short URLs because there is a character limit. If you need to, you may use a URL shortener like bit.ly or goo.gl. How you edit beacon settings to change a URL differs with devices and apps. I use an app from Sensoro, the manufacturer of my five Eddystone units. Of the five, three came in a kit whose maker purchased the beacons from Sensoro. Two I purchased direct from Sensoro. Their app allows me to edit settings on those beacons but when I try to use it on the kit beacons I’m asked for a password I don’t have. That is a security feature that prevents someone with the app from editing settings on another owner’s beacons. To edit the kit beacons I need to use the kit maker’s app.   SensoroSettings01 SensoroSettings02 In the example above I’ve picked a popular website for the URL broadcast. Were I to create my own web content, I could revise it at any time without changing the URL. That would go a long way to addressing the management issue, assuming I was satisfied with initial settings for advertising interval and signal strength. If I wanted to have regular access to those and other settings the cloud platform is more practical. Look at the centre panel. Here I can select how often per second I want the beacon to broadcast its advertising packet, in this case the URL I’ve chosen. The more often it broadcasts the more likely the receiving browser or app will be listening just then. The penalty is shortened battery life, the same reason that the listening side isn’t listening without pause. Mobile devices run on battery power too and the harder they work the sooner they need a charge. But if you own a coffee shop and your beacon is offering a free donut to passers-by you want to reach as many as possible, and that means broadcasting as near-continuously as possible. I am on the road to learning to speak beacon. I look forward to meeting you along the way.   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.

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.

Eddystone-URL Beacons – How I Did it

  I am cursed with the tractor pull of early, early adoption. QR codes lured me in several years ago and this summer it was the turn of the iBeacon. When Apple released these BluetoothLE (low energy) radio transmitters in 2013 they were programmed to communicate with a custom app that visitors to Apple retail stores were encouraged to install on their iPhones. Developers quickly jumped on the opportunity, writing custom apps for other retailers and verticals and the numbers began to grow explosively. But until July of 2015 beacons needed apps like plants need water. Then Google introduced an open source, cross platform alternative to iBeacon, which they named “Eddystone” after a famous lighthouse in the British Isles. The killer aspect of Eddystone is its ability to broadcast a simple web address, a single url that opens up the power of the Internet to every inexpensive little beacon transmitter. Virtually all beacon hardware can be made to work with either standard, or both. I was reading everything I could find on the beacosphere, trying to cement my understanding, collect use cases and ultimately to move from an intellectual sense of the opportunities to an operator’s experience of the end-to-end reality of beacons in use. I selected beaconstac in India as my starting point for the hands-on phase of my journey, and ordered their starter kit for USD $79. (A terrific chat support guy named Dan in NYC made the decision for me.) It included three beacons, an app and a cloud platform. It promised a demo that would open on my smartphone and simulate the experience of entering the proximity zone of a beacon in a retail environment, to show me a deal on shoes. shoes It didn’t work and the beacons were not Eddystone compliant. But to their credit, after trying for several weeks to patch their app to talk to my Sony Xperia Z3 they sent me a free, Eddystone replacement kit. In the meantime I had discovered the manufacturer of the beaconstac hardware, Sensoro of Beijing. Sensoro was running a sale on the identical 4AA beacons, for USD $10 each. I ordered two and installed their app for Android. In a very short time I had discovered how to program them to broadcast simple urls, selecting cnn.com and cbc.com because they were well within the 17-character limit for length of url. I installed an app called the “Physical Web”. When I pull down my notification screen I see a message about two beacons being nearby. When I click that message I see the links I created. my_beacons_in_notification The Physical Web app will I believe become ubiquitous in our physical environment. You will see the distinctive logo on shop doors and street signs, to alert you to the presence of contextual content. From an apartment for rent to a concert announcement and anything in between, links to available web pages will present themselves if you request them. My accomplishment as described above wasn’t as straightforward as it might sound. I stumbled down the road of discovery. The key was my finding that the Sensoro app included its own QR code scanner, for use on the QR code printed on the side of every one of their beacons. Scanning it brought up the beacon settings and the offer to edit them. Here I could enter my url of choice, save and exit. I tried to use the same approach to programming the three identical beacons from the replacement starter kit and hit a roadblock. I’d scan the QR code, select “Edit” and be presented with a login screen asking for a password. beaconstac_eddystone It was many days later that I realized I was looking at the essential security feature that prevents all of us from freely changing other people’s content, by editing their beacons. This requirement for basic security is what forces us to select a supplier and use their software to program our beacons. No matter how far from Mumbai or Beijing my beacons may travel, their supplier knows where they are and how they’re set. That’s what allows them to permit me to make my edits, but not someone who cannot identify himself to their platform. Every beacon has a UUID, a universally unique ID as original as a fingerprint. So now let me share with you last night’s inspiration. Not everyone controls web space and is capable of creating content to link to a url that their personal beacon can then broadcast. But virtually everyone has a device that will shoot video and virtually everyone can upload that video to YouTube and use the YouTube url to link it to a beacon. So whether you want to sell your car (parked with a beacon inside and the Physical Web logo on the window) or advertise a local event in a friendly storefront, creating the message and making it available just got pretty darn easy. And it’s just as easy to change the message by creating a new one and using the url YouTube provides. There's no arguing that most of us haven't had a live beacon experience yet but that will change quickly as the Chrome browser for Android, the Opera browser and more options for receiving notifications natively expand. Beacons just offer too much in too many directions not to get huge. From tracking lost pets to delivering audible messages to the visually impaired, beacons can do what hasn’t been possible until now. 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.

Hands-on with Eddystone-URL

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. Physical Web Logo 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: PhysicalWebScreen 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: my_beacons_in_notification 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. beacon2phone2web-Chrome_with_proxy600 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.

To Beaconstac Support

I received my starter kit on Friday, September 18th. The following morning I installed fresh batteries, downloaded the Android app, logged onto the website and began reading tutorial material. I created my first rule, a summary card promoting the starter kit, complete with an image of it unpacked. The two images below illustrate first that the card showed up on the "Experience Demo" screen and that the beacon successfully sent it to my Sony Xperia Z3. This is the one and only time I was successful in pushing anything from a beacon to the phone. starter_kit_first_push You asked if when I go to "My Beacons" I see signal strength in colour next to the beacon description. The answer is no. What I see is this: MyBeacons I mentioned in my most recent support request that all three beacons report zero advertising interval and zero output - in fact the only thing that isn't zero is the battery status, which is 100%. I know from your tutorial material that I should be able to edit the key settings by clicking "Edit", and you have told me to move the phone closer to the beacon to make this possible, but I can be a half inch from the beacon and still see only "beacon out of range". I have opened the cases to check that I installed the batteries properly. I have checked multiple times that Bluetooth is enabled. When I expand the Bluetooth setting on the phone I get the following: Bluetooth I have toggled the setting to make the Xperia visible to other Bluetooth devices with no change in results. I just tried it again a moment ago and still get, "beacon out of range" from an inch away. In case it matters, the phone is running Android version 4.4.4. with no option to upgrade. That's all I can think of to provide at this stage. I have a support session booked for 9:30 am, which is forty-five minutes from the time of writing this. Sure looking forward to clearing up whatever the problem is.

Tom Talks Cricket

Beacons Bridge the Digital & Real Worlds

Twenty years ago I saw my first billboard displaying a World Wide Web address. Not surprisingly, I was in San Francisco. About 10 years later many of us were visiting that web from mobile devices without wired connections, often accompanied by a cup of coffee. Search got dramatically better when we were able to disclose our location to Google and to apps like Facebook and Foursquare, among others.

Mobile devices enabled with BluetoothLE radio transmitters can sense the proximity of devices called beacons, and receive a transmission from them. Putting aside the science for the moment, let’s explore the possibilities this creates – and they are extraordinary.

Proximity Targeting

At this time it is possible for something you carry to detect a signal from both stationary and moving objects equipped with the BluetoothLE radio transmitter, a tiny device requiring little power, and able to wake up an app, or simply offer a connection you may accept or ignore. Both approaches involve permission. In the case of the app, you gave it when you agreed to install it, although agreeing to provide your location may be a separate step. The alternative case involves choosing to see what is available around you. In this illustration, the transmitter offers a menu, each item on which was created by an individual who wants folks nearby to know something about him or his business.

beacon on the Physical Web

What can be done with the recognition of proximity is a dizzyingly broad canvas. You might put a transmitter on your dog’s collar and the information someone finding him would need to get him back to you up on a webpage. When a smart device gets close to the lost animal it can receive that web link, open it and mend your heartache. In other cases a visual trigger might cause you to look for content in your immediate surrounding. The image below demonstrates how something called “the Physical Web” is brought to our attention via the placement of a logo on a door, even the window of a car for sale. Currently, Android users would access whatever notification there is via the Chrome browser on their Smartphone. Apple users have that same choice and a couple more. An alternative approach is the creation of a zone, a proprietary solution in which beacons in effect map out a shopping street or mall. A beacon at the entrance to the zone explains the voyage. Subsequent beacons may offer content from specific shops and attractions. All of this location-relevant content comes via an app, created to support the zone. So, the Smartphone Chrome browser in one case, a dedicated app in the other.

PhysicalWebIcon_on_a_door600

Contextual Awareness

At another point on the spectrum the same recognition of proximity could navigate you through an airport, taking you to your gate and providing on-time information. It can assist vision-impaired individuals in crossing similar spaces with limited human intervention by triggering speech modules to provide information and direction. And in a retail store, it can not only identify that you are standing next to the TV wall, it can measure how long you’re immobile (dwell time) and decide that you might be interested in information about one or more of the products near you. It might even change the video playing on a screen to one offering features, price, warranty and so on. These examples introduce proximity’s twin – context awareness. When our device is understood to be near an object, event or thing, an app may make an assumption regarding what we might welcome, perhaps because we are stationary for a measurable period. If you’re stopped before a store display, you might receive a choice of items to learn more about. Typically, this kind of engagement comes from a “beacon-rich” environment, where the danger of “spamming” you is understood and where care is taken to provide relevant content, not just another push.

Can You Play Too?

There is no doubt that it will be businesses large and small, in segments including retail, healthcare, transportation, events, stadiums and attractions, that will dominate the disbursement of proximity beacons and the content they reveal. But no one is excluded from participating.  

This kit includes three beacons, an app for your Smartphone and an online dashboard to assist you in identifying each separate beacon and assigning it a task. If you know nothing about writing code you will still be able to assign content, thanks to the software provided, and what you assign will still be available to Smartphones with Chrome browsers active, and Bluetooth enabled. If you work from home you could broadcast an ad for your business to passersby. You could advertise a car or boat or camper for sale, or an apartment for rent. And of course you could lose-proof Fido with a specific version of the beacon known as a sticker, intended to be stuck to an object. Sticker starter kits are also available.

Resources

Starter Kits: Beaconstac Starter kit at USD$79 Estimote From USD$99 Sticker kit available BestBuyBeacons Starter Kit €99 Other options include purchasing just beacons and buying into a closed system solution for instructing and managing them. One example: Offerdrop Beacons from Estimote start at USD$30 each. 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.

Boosting A Facebook Page Post

I was recently asked to explain how I reached seven thousand Facebook newsfeeds for $10. I chose to answer in a blog post where adding illustrations is so simple. The first requirement in this process is that you have a business page rather than a personal profile. In my case it's www.facebook.com/faceliftmarketing Here's the proof of my claim: Harper_boost Not all of the reach was bought. Just under 2000 were what Facebook calls "organic", and for my page that's a very high number. In this next screen cap you'll see the reach Facebook attributes to the $10 buy: Harper_results600 The process starts with the "Boost Post" button at lower right of each post, as seen by the page Administrator. Hovering over the button brings up the black box with reverse text. Visitors don't see this option: Harper_how_to_boost.600png When you click the "Boost" button the following screen looks like this: Harper_ad_preview600 As you can see, in this preview window you select your budget and make decisions about the audience, age, gender and geography. Once you're satisfied you submit your ad and you're done. Anyone with admin privileges may see real time results in the "Insights" tab, again only visible to admins. That's it. Questions welcome if you have any. 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.

Buffer & Pablo – Great Tweet Tools

Buffer is a scheduler for social media content. I have used it for tweets for some months. Recently they added a tool called Pablo to their offering. Pablo makes simple the creation of images with text overlays, useful in many ways but particularly in cheating Twitter's 140-character limit. If you have Buffer installed in the Chrome browser you can highlight a string of text anywhere you find it, right-click and choose "Buffer". Highlight text and select "Buffer" When you do you can proceed to create and send or schedule your tweet OR you can choose to use Pablo to set the text over an image from the media library. Buffer's Pablo Here is an example of what you can create when you make the choice to use Pablo:
Pablo text over image
When you create your tweet the image leaves you headroom to add copy to explain or link. A very useful combination of tools if Twitter is central to your social media activity. 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.

Micro Video Drone 3.0 – Tech at the Edge

 it is the new Micro Drone 3.0, a miniature HD video drone that has covered every conceivable angle. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, the MD3 streams HD video to your phone as it flies. It's capable of streaming live via Meerkat, to your Twitter followers, the video it shoots can be saved and edited, uploaded or linked wherever you choose. All of its parts snap together, are easily replaced and the body can actually be 3-D printed in a variety of looks, like the dragon, or the wasp. Oh yes, and it costs $150. Let's take a look at what it can do. Prepare to be amazed:

I hope you watched the video because it is literally awesome. But it doesn't tell the complete story. The MD3 has an optional gimbal which attaches to the bottom and provides perfect stability in flight. This means you get Hollywood-style results, dead level footage of the world below. It comes with three different props sizes to create three different levels of lift and speed. Along with the professional controller included in the price is an app download to turn your Smartphone into a controller. And another amazing extra turns your phone into a set of goggles that give you a first-person view as you fly, as if you were in the cockpit of the vehicle. In this video the company's young CEO demonstrates the (cardboard) goggles and describes the built-in stabilization that delivers viewable video without the sort of camera shake you would think inevitable from something flying in the wind. The maker claims the MD3 can fly in winds up to 45 miles per hour for six to eight minutes on a charged battery. Batteries are cheap and will charge in an hour.

This third generation of the product was crowdfunded, with a goal of $75,000. When last I looked the amount raised was nearing two million dollars. Winner? I'd say so.

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Your Business – Engagement Through Mobile

Regular Linkedin users are familiar with the invitation to publish a post. Different from an update, a post is an article, providing some original thinking or researched content. This first effort from yours truly takes a dive into the promise of beacon technology to change our everyday experiences of place. I'm delivering it to the blog via a Twitter function known as "copy link to Tweet", an option I only discovered recently and with which I'm quite taken. I hope you enjoy the read. I'd love to hear your thoughts - including corrections if I've made mistakes out of my so recent exposure to the subject. 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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