Posts Tagged ‘geo location’

In March of 2011, Pelago, the company known for having produced Whrrl, wrote a mini essay detailing their ideas about a concept they labeled “anti-search.” Anti-search, they claimed, was a movement in search of “serendipitous world discovery,” writing: “Search engines are good at addressing those “high intent” situations, like “where’s the closest Starbucks?” or “what kind of food does this place serve?” or “how are the reviews for this restaurant?”  You know what you’re looking for and it’s easy to express your intent as a query” and continues, “Serendipity is “zero intent” discovery, i.e. when you aren’t actually looking for something, but a great idea finds you.   Between these two extremes are discovery missions of varying degrees of intent, e.g. “I’m hungry” or “I’m bored.”

Which they represented by this interesting little graphic:

For me, this brings up the question, has the deliberate searching and querying of our surroundings via technology– whether those surroundings are natural or unnatural—really precluded the opportunities for actually, well, discovering places and things? Is there a chance that with the proliferation of location aware technologies, and geographic social mobility coupled with mobile internet access, we are no longer actually capable of physically seeing and interacting with what is actually around us? Are we completely incapable of tripping down a little ivy-laden alley and discovering a mural, or a coffee shop, or a funky shoe store without the aid of a mobile device or online coupon website?

According to Pelago, anti-search is comprised of three elements:

  1. “The right data in order to “know” a user.  I.e. user actions like check-ins, the social graph, interactions among users (which I’ll talk about in a second), etc.
  2. The right algorithms.  We need to take all this data and turn it into personalized recommendations.
  3. The right social ecosystem.  This is decidedly the hardest part.  The necessary content and data is locked up in people’s heads and hearts – we need to make it motivating and easy to get that content out, to get people taking the necessary actions to create the data to feed the algorithms that ultimately allow us to provide an amazing discovery experience.” (

But I would argue that the act of discovery does not rule out the possibility that the discoverer will stumble upon something they don’t like, something they wouldn’t have chosen. I would also argue that to prevent each of us from doing so is robbery, plain and simple, of the experience being challenged in our sense of taste. How are we supposed to define what we don’t like about something if we’re never faced with the distasteful something in the first place?

Besides, the word serendipity – in part- refers to an unintended experience. How can you possibly achieve that if your intention is to plug a social recommendation engine full of data to steer you towards intended unintended situations or experiences?

Which is why, with Groupon’s reported acquisition of Pelago, the whole ridiculous ethos of these sites and recommendation engines (which are, at their heart, merely designed to sell you things) has come full circle in a doomed cycle of self-mockery.

This acquisition clearly runs counter to Whrrl’s stated “anti-search” goal of “serendipitous world discovery.”

Case in point: how many among us have purchased at least one Groupon at this point (i.e. are unique Groupon users)? There aren’t any real numbers on that at this point, but it’s safe to say that number is in the millions, given that the number of Groupons bought at the time that this was published was in the 40 million range. Yet how many of us have subsequently struggled to find the time or the energy to use said coupon, or let the coupons pile up until one or two have expired without being used? I’d wager that number is in the high hundreds of thousands, if not also in the millions.

So someone tell me how that’s not intent or a deliberate attempt to make the time to go somewhere and use something that was purchased with that specific intent in mind. It’s not serendipity, it’s a scheduled appointment to go spend money at a pre-determined location.

At the risk of sounding like a complete luddite, the next time someone wants to indulge in a little “serendipitous world discovery,” I would honestly recommend that they go for a walk in their neighborhood- no headphones, no phone- just them and the buildings, parks, animals, and people around them.


August 30, 2010-

At the beginning of this year Mark Zuckerberg famously announced that privacy was dead, stirring the pot and increasing concerns among the majority of internet users that their identities and personal information were being appropriated for capital gain.

Arguably, 2010 has been the year of “location aware technology,” whether the location is two dimensional or three dimensional. These days your computer knows where you’ve been online, where you’re going, and why you buy things there, and your phone can tell any satellite where you physically are on the globe and what advertising you’re passing at that very moment. Clearly, marketers are doing their best to collect as much of that information as possible and to use it.

One of the main issues in the ongoing debate about whether location aware technology and geotagging are net-positive or net-negative developments (or somewhere in between) centers on the concession that advertising and marketing are not going away any time soon. Advertising is an institutionalized facet of American life, especially in major urban centers. That being said, marketers like to argue that with more information they can better speak to a consumer’s interests and needs, as opposed to leading a consumer to buy something he or she doesn’t need.

Leaving that argument for a minute, the real concern here is over privacy, and educating the masses on how to protect their own privacy. A recent article in the New York Times cautioned readers against geotagging photos at their homes, and cited the example of Adam Savage, one half of the “MythBusters” team who had geotagged a Twitter photo of his car in front of his personal residence in the Bay Area. The Times pointed out that by doing Adam Savage had just informed all of his Twitter followers of his personal address, the make and model of his car, and that he was leaving for work at that very moment, “geotags… are embedded in photos and videos taken with GPS-equipped smartphones and digital cameras. Because the location data is not visible to the casual viewer, the concern is that many people may not realize it is there; and they could be compromising their privacy, if not their safety, when they post geotagged media online.”

Now with Facebook Places, a new feature which allows its users to tag their locations in their status updates, and the increasing use of Twitter and FourSquare, organizations such as the ACLU are concerned that the spread of technology is one again outpacing usage education and awareness of the risks of information abuse, “The organization highlighted the element of the new service that allows users to “tag” an accompanying friend and post his or her location to Facebook – even if the friend does not have an iPhone, which is currently the only platform on which the application is available.”

The other side of this coin involves how browsers and advertisers track our movements online. After all, this is a huge market that Facebook plans to tap, 50 percent of Facebook’s over 400 million users log in to the site at least once a day, and more than a quarter of that overall number access the service from mobile devices. However, despite all of the hype, new research shows that most users still decline to announce their location publicly.

According to a recent Forrester Research report, “Just 4 percent of Americans have tried location-based services, and 1 percent use them weekly…Eighty percent of those who have tried them are men, and 70 percent are between 19 and 35.”

Returning to the modern marketer’s argument that the more information they can gather on a person’s interests, habits and locations, the more applicable an ad will be for a consumer, there is strong evidence to support this. Personalized ad retargeting, where ads for specific products that consumers have perused online follow them around while they continue to browse the web, are becoming more pervasive. And marketers are big believers, “‘The overwhelming response has been positive,’ said Aaron Magness, senior director for brand marketing and business development at Zappos, a unit of”

Still, consumer sentiment about being monitored, whether online or off, reflects overall concern and creepy feelings. Ongoing education about how browsers and advertisers collect behavioral information both online and off might serve to eliminate the two-way mirror feeling that many consumers experience. However, it has not yet proven to completely allay consumer fears and concerns about a potentially serious breach of privacy.

In other words, while consumers feel uncertain as to where all of this leaves their privacy, advertisers are increasingly certain of where consumers stand. Literally.

July 22, 2010:

The news recently broke that Foursquare is forming agreements to start charging search engines such as Google and Bing for their geographic location data. Instantly various news sources launched stories seeking to satisfy user curiosities by positing what these information transactions might lead to in the future. Among the many educated guesses were enhanced real-time search, social mapping, and more strongly developed mobile search. I would add one more: more strongly targeted traditional advertising and marketing media.

Internet analysts and emerging media connoisseurs may write disproportionately more about innovative new technologies, but if you ask the advertising and marketing executives of the world if they have abandoned traditional media as part of their integrated campaigns, the answer would be a resounding “no.” The data that Foursquare will provide is a solid reinforcement of retaining those traditional marketing strategies. What we physically see and interact with outside of the realm of our computer and television screens still matters.

Still, it might surprise most people to learn that the data they generate by using Foursquare’s geo-location technology will be used to determine what shows up on their local billboards. Yes, you heard right– billboard. Even if, admittedly, these days that billboard might be digital and therefore closer to a television than the enormous printed posters the term still conjures.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Geo-location data brings the internet back to the earth by collecting information on where you were when you saw what. With apps like Foursquare, suddenly it’s not who you are, but where you are and when that matters most again. That means that physical advertising efforts such as billboards can be even better data-driven and targeted to the interests of local populations.

How do you feel about these types of emerging social media and GPS-oriented advertising ventures that will know where you go, where you shop, and where you eat? Do you think of this type of geographically-targeted advertising as convenience, or as an invasion of privacy?