Signal Weds: My Location Is A Box of Cereal

I’ve been on Foursquare for a few months now, and I’m starting to have a few opinions about the service. For those of you who haven’t yet grokked it, Foursquare is one of a number of “location based services” (LBS) that makes a game of checking into local businesses and public spaces (folks check into their homes and private spaces as well). It’s a bit addictive, and it’s growing like Twitter in 2008 or Facebook in 2006. In other words, it’s Valley hot (though Foursquare is based in New York, a point of pride for that community).

As readers know, I’ve declared the “check-in” as the latest field in the Database of Intentions. “Where I am” is a powerful signal, in particular if where you are is a local business that might answer that signal with an offer that engenders loyalty, purchase, or both.

But I’m starting to think that we need to expand the concept of location to more than physical spaces. Why can’t I check-in to a website? An article? A state of mind? An emotion? Or…an object?

Over at FM, we’ve been thinking about that very question, and have been busy turning theory into practice (more on that later). But I got a glimpse of where “the check-in” might be headed today when my pal Seth Goldstein came over to give me a tour of StickyBits.

StickyBits started as a way to attach digital content to physical objects – “tagging” them with a physical sticker emblazoned with a barcode. A slick iPhone or Android app makes it easy – you just slap on the sticker, take a photo of it, and connect the sticker to a web media object in the cloud (for example a video of your kids). Then anyone who sees that sticker can scan it, and see the same object. It’s a great idea for, say, a greeting card company.

But a funny thing happens when you put technology into the hands of real people. Stickybits launched at SXSW, and as William Gibson famously said, the street finds its own use for technology. In the case of StickyBits, people figured they could scan any bar code and attach annotations. And it turns out, there are a hell of a lot of barcodes in our lives every day. And it also turns out, StickyBits supports the use of any barcode as a tagging location.

Cans of coke, bars of chocolate, boxes of Kleenex or breakfast cereal – the tagged items starting pouring in. People were actually checking into brands through the use of that brand’s product.

Let that sink in for a while. I’m going to say it again.

People were actually checking into brands through the use of that brand’s product.

And we’ll talk about it again once your mind is well and truly blown.

Meanwhile, it’s been a very interesting day out there in InternetLand:

Another Ad Exchange Player: Microsoft Vet Jeff Green Launches The Trade Desk (ATD) As this and the following story show, the exchange/information system/trading model for advertising is really picking up steam. I say swell, at the end of the day, we’re humans, and we’ll use these as tools. Not replace ourselves with them.

Thinking About The Marketing Services Company Of The Future (Walrath/AdExchanger) Founder of Right Media says that agencies and their holding companies will fail to innovate. Gauntlet, down.

Why @ Is Held in Such High Design Esteem (NYT) Fun piece on where it’s all “@”.

Goldman Says Baidu Is Ready Pick To Up 50% Of Google’s China Revenue (GOOG, BIDU) (BI) The fallout from Google’s China pullout is most evident here. However, there is a lot more. A lot. An entire ecosystem will shift, and I hope Google retains its stance in the face of it.

Why ‘TV Everywhere’ Will Fail (MediaShift) From the piece: “TV Everywhere is a solution for Big Cable — not for its customers.”

Google Says New ‘Search Funnel’ Will Help Entice Brand Advertisers

Sergey Brin urges US to act over China web censorship (Guardian) Earlier today I did an interview for ABC World News in which I stressed the implications of Google’s moves on geopolitics. Unfortunately, the short piece instead focused on “Google vs. China.” Sigh. But Brin is pushing the US to take up the same stance that Google has. Good for him. He also had choice words for other US companies, including Microsoft: “The notion that any company should make any sort of decision other than to maximise profit? I would hope that larger companies would not put profit ahead of all else. Generally, companies should pay attention to how and where their products are used.” It’s rather hard to argue with that, I’d warrant.

Empowered (New Yorker) New Yorker writer laments the lack of power plugs at airports. In fact, I’ve found more and more around, as municipalities and marketers realize the opportunity to add value to harried travelers like all of us. Not sure where she’s traveling, but when in doubt, “pretend you’re a janitor.” There’s always a plug. I rather enjoy the search.


Earlier in Signal I said I’d choose one new subscriber to the Signal email newsletter from the first 100 who would get a free pass to the CM Summit this June (more than $1500 value). I’ll be picking another winner from the next 100, so if it suits your information consumption goals, sign up for it on the Signal home page (upper right box).

If you enjoy reading FM’s Signal, then you’ll want to come to the CM Summit this June 7-8in New York City. Join the founders of AdMob, Boxee, Foursquare, and the CEOs of Razorfish, Moxie, GroupM, AOL, as well as top execs from American Express, Adobe, Google, The New York Times, Starbucks, AT&T and more.

6 thoughts on “Signal Weds: My Location Is A Box of Cereal

  1. When any barcode is a physical hyperlink, “checking into brands” will also be accompanied by brand jamming and other creative misappropriation. File that next to “who owns the air rights for augmented reality annotations of physical real estate?”

    Also FWIW, I wrote a speculative piece about ‘massively multiplayer magazines’ that included the notion of checking into articles as a game mechanic:

    “Each story is a context that you “check into”, much like a Foursquare location. This might show up in your Twitter stream as “I’m reading with 5 other people“, with a shortened link directly to the article. As you check in and comment about the article in your social stream, you accumulate points in your profile for each new reader that clicks through your link. If you are leafing through a paper copy of the magazine, you might find a QR code printed on the page, and scan it with your smartphone to “check in” and connect to the social stream about the article.”

  2. And just imagine the possibilities if you have a brand that’s all about mobility. And what if that brand allowed you to bring your already connected life along for the ride?

    It’s LBS integrated into the ultimate mobile device. ;-)

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company

  3. StickyBits is an idea that just makes sense, and is a natural extension of the location check-in. (I’m here (Gowalla/Foursquare) and here’s what I’m using/looking at/buying/playing with/etc. (StickyBits)) In fact, I thought Google was doing something similar when they rolled out the Google Favorite Places QR code stickers ( since scanning a QR code/barcode eliminates the problems faced by GPS based location systems. (Though it then comes with its own set of problems, since QR codes/barcodes can be replicated anywhere.)

    As a marketer, the idea of consumers scanning a barcode on your product and then attaching their own little bits of social information has got some definite potential. From the recipe example StickyBits gives to Facebook page alternatives that form when any group of people all scan the same code, the link between the digital and the physical world that StickyBits creates feels like the start of something very interesting.

    Consider me very interested to see what they do with it.

  4. As Tac noted: “StickyBits is interesting. After seeing it at SXSW I called it Google SideWiki for the real world. I also called it a product managers worst nightmare”

    the obvious outcome will be the monetization of the UPC/etc barcode space and product owners will block/assert ownership of barcodes they license from UCC.

    Sure, non-standard barcodes will be ‘fair game’, but they are far less ubiquitous.

    This reminds me of the Web 2.0 version of ScanCat, but this time instead of a ‘cool’ $5 catshape scanner they have a $600 iPhone running a free app…

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