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.

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.

Use Mobile to Promote Your Bricks & Mortar Business

The Tsunami of mobile device adoption offers a world of opportunity to promote your bricks & mortar business. And it begins with making your website mobile-friendly. Searches are increasingly coming from mobile devices and Google wants the results to deliver satisfactory experiences for users. Forget page one if you’re not mobile-friendly. Now, some ideas to promote with mobile: SHARED SHORT CODE (SMS MESSAGING) short code messaging sells burgersIf you’ve ever seen an invitation, on your smartphone or a sidewalk sign, for example, to “text insert a word to 33145 to get your discount coupon” or some other goodie, you’ve seen short code at work. Even a sole-location burger bar can afford to put together a short code campaign. Short code numbers are rented out and assigned to campaigns for periods of time. Big companies often buy a number but most of us take advantage of the “shared” option, where one number can be used by multiple campaigns, each separating itself from the others by the choice of the word you’re asked to text. For a full explanation, with examples and video read my blog post. TWITTER OPTIONS twitter feed in WordPress site Put your twitter feed on your website. Now that you’re mobile-friendly, inserting your feed will display properly and give you double coverage, to both your Twitter and website audience. look over to the right hand column (or scroll down if you're on your phone) to see one of the widget solutions in WordPress. Learn how here. If your site doesn't use it, there are other methods.
Twitter Cards are a means of promoting in your feed by creating a card intended either to drive website traffic or encourage downloading an app. For most SMBs the obvious choice is site traffic. Cards, once created, are tweeted, for free to just your followers or to a larger audience with demographics you select, for a fee. Start with free cards to get a feel for the approach. Read my blog post to learn how.
Just as you can boost a post in Facebook you can Quick Promote a Tweet. Read more...
OTHER OPTIONS Build a Facebook Audience from Website visitors All online activity leaves footprints and Facebook offers businesses a method for building an audience from visitors to their (your) website. It's called a "tracking pixel", a snippet of code that, when properly pasted into your posts and pages adds any visitor to an invisible list. You may run ads to that audience (very inexpensively) and a look-alike audience can be created by shared characteristics because Facebook knows so much about its users. With a few clicks, you can double the audience for your boosted posts and other ad options. Read our WordPress "how-to"...
  Live stream video from your premises using Periscope, an app owned by Twitter. Whether you’re putting on an event or just having a busy Saturday, positioning a Smartphone camera on the action makes live streaming video available to your followers and anyone they share with. You can schedule your stream in advance to build a larger audience. Viewers can like and comment so be prepared to engage with them. Live streaming is a two-way street. To get a feeling for live streaming from a mobile device, download Periscope (and Meerkat if you like) and view some of the available programming. You may choose to save your stream with Periscope for twenty-four hours, time to use your Facebook page and your email list to invite viewers who missed the live event. Your first broadcast won’t likely challenge the one restaurant chain Applebee’s pulled off from Times Square but you’ll be ahead of the competition. More...
The underappreciated QR (Quick Response) code remains a useful tool for engaging visitors, providing expanded product knowledge or just a means to save contact and website information. Unlike the product bar codes  on packaging, QR codes are two-dimensional, containing data across and down, which makes them capable of communicating more information than their one-dimensional sibling. Consumers do morepre-purchase research than ever and many would prefer to begin the buying path without a salesperson. QR code campaigns are also simple to design and implement – and they’re trackable.

Mobile can build your business, is doing it for others every day.

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QR Codes Connected to Licences and Permits in NYC

Now this is one great idea. New York City Council has passed a resolution requiring certain establishments to prominently display a QR code linking to information about their license and permit status. Want to check out a daycare facility? Scan the code! Read on...

QR Codes Pump Up Happy Hour

We have always believed that the uses for humble QR code, created to track auto parts in Japanese manufacturing, are limited only by the imagination. Here is proof positive. Beer sales at Harry's Bar in Singapore went through the roof when shy guys could talk to women by programming a QR code and hanging it on a beer bottle sent to the table. Watch it work:
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