Advertising / Marketing

The Coming Ad Revolution: Predatory vs. Participatory

Esther Dyson wrote an insightful opinion piece in Monday's Wall Street Journal on "The Coming Ad Revolution". I agree with many of her observations and prognostications about how advertising will (and will not) evolve - or, perhaps, revolve - but I had a strong adverse reaction to her use of "targeting" with respect to the future form of advertising.

She begins by noting the importance of validation in social networks (and advertising):

The discussion about privacy is changing as users take control over their own online data. While they spread their Web presence, these users are not looking for privacy, but for recognition as individuals [emphasis mine] - whether by friends or vendors. This will eventually change the whole world of advertising.

Dyson goes on to describe examples of how social networking and advertising might interact, primarily revolving around travel, e.g.,

I'm an individual with specific travel plans, which I intentionally make visible to preferred vendors. British Airways, of course, will pay Dopplr a handsome sponsorship fee to be eligible to be my "friend".

She concludes by noting:

Value is being created in users' own walled gardens, which they will cultivate for themselves in real estate owned by the social networks. The new value creators are companies -- like Facebook and Dopplr -- that know how to build and support online communities.

I liked and agreed with what she had to say throughout much of the article, but there is a big disconnect for me in this last point. The users are cultivating value (inside walled gardens) and yet the attribution of value creation - and all the financial proceeds thereto - goes to the landlords. This strikes me as online feudalism, which is the antithesis of the architectures of participation that many other commentators are placing at the core of Web 2.0 (a paradigm, or at least a perspective, which encompasses services like Facebook and Dopplr). Why should Dopplr or Facebook (or any other social networking service) be the sole financial beneficiaries of our gardening? This seems more evolutionary than revolutionary to me - more of a platform shift than a paradigm shift, with a slew of new lords.

Targeted advertising is all the rage these days, perhaps best exemplified by Google Adwords, with many other services and companies - notably including Microsoft and Yahoo! (who are mentioned by Dyson, along with some newer players such as NebuAd, Project Rialto, Phorm, Frontporch and Adzilla) - jockeying for a piece of that pie. But even this terminology reflects a feudal - or perhaps predatory - mentality. Who wants to be a target? The word clearly has some non-positive connotations - "something or someone fired at or marked for attack; an object of ridicule or criticism" - that reinforce (for me) an imbalance between advertisers and the consumers they want to reach. In this context, current social networks seem more like hunting ranches or fishing farms than gardens, but perhaps that distinction simply reflects my bias toward fauna over flora (at least with respect to domestication or manipulation).

In another section, Dyson makes reference to "a hypothetical Amazon 2.0, new and more personalized"; I'm not sure how the current Amazon falls short of the personalization she has in mind, but its affiliates program offers one model for how online lords can share some of the yields of the vassals' efforts through referral fees and/or commissions. Why not share the financial benefits from the social production of social value in social networks more universally - sharing the wealth of networks across all the participants in the network(s)? This would be a real revolution in advertising.

Ruminating on revolution, gardening and bargaining brings to mind a musical reference (a recurring experience for me, especially lately) - the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young version of Woodstock:

We are stardust, we are golden,
We are caught in the devil's bargain,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Thanks for the Ad: Brand-Centered Sociality and Socioeconomic Networking on Facebook

Facebook announced their social advertising tools this week, unveiling a new set of channels for advertising on the site:

  • Facebook Pages: businesses can now be have faces on Facebook
  • Social Ads: advertisements based on actions your friends have taken on the site
  • Facebook Beacon: advertisements based on actions you have taken on other sites (e.g., online viewing, buying or selling)

Businesses are now be first-class citizens in the world of Facebook, and allocated Pages (with a capital "P"). People can add links to business pages, but they are listed as "fans" rather than "friends", prompting Jeremiah Owyang to coin the term fan-sumers (fan + consumers, a la prosumers (producer + consumer) ... though I wonder if fancons would be a more appropriate mashup, especially in view of some of the other dimensions of social advertising ... but I'm getting ahead of myself). With tens of millions of people, and 100,000 of [potential?] businesses, the Facebook Pages of "landmark partners" listed in the announcement appear to be off to a somewhat lackluster start, based on a little browsing around on Facebook this morning: Blockbuster (51 fans), CBS (no page), Chase (25) The Coca-Cola Company (the landmark leader, with 304 fans, as I suppose befits the world's most popular brand), Microsoft (35 fans on one Page, 2 more on another, leading me to wonder which, if either, is the "official" Facebook Page for the company), Sony Pictures Television (no page) and Verizon Wireless (83). Of course, we're only 48 hours into this brave - or should I say "brand" - new world, but I suspect that most people acquire friends on Facebook faster than most businesses are acquiring fans.

Social Ads allow people to have targeted advertisements displayed on their Facebook pages (er, which are not to be confused with Facebook Pages, or maybe they will be ... but again, I digress). To be honest, I can't tell from the announcement - or other reports - whether the targeting is based on the profile and actions of the Facebook user on whose page the ad appears, or on the profiles and actions of the friends of the person on whose page the ad appears ... perhaps it's both (especially given the boundaries that are being broken by other dimensions of the announced changes). In any case, businesses can purchase advertising space - banner ads - on pages of people who have fanned them, and fanned business endorsements can show up in people's minifeeds, leading to a new form of brand-centered sociality (a special case of object-centered sociality)

Facebook Beacon is an outreach service that enables Facebook user actions taken on other sites to be incorporated into that Facebook user's news feeds or Mini-Feeds, e.g., a buying or selling an item on eBay, purchasing a movie ticket on Fandango, booking travel on Travelocity or posting a restaurant review on Yelp (notably absent from the list of Facebook Beacon partners is Amazon, which, of course, has been adding more and more social networking service features to its own web site, another dimension of the convergence of ecommerce and social networking). The service is opt-in, and it will be very interesting to see the social ramifications of this new portal of revelation (I can imagine cases of "Who did you go to that movie with?" or "Why didn't you call while you were in town last weekend?").

This is, of course, all very exciting from the point of view of marketers ... and, of course, on some level we're all marketers (Citizen Marketers or Brand You's) ... especially the growing proportion of people with Facebook pages. Self-promotion is a natural human inclination, and one of the ways we promote or express our selves is through our associations with other people, places, things and activities. Many of us choose to promote brands in the physical world implicitly - through the clothes we wear, the posters we hang on our walls and the stickers we place on our laptops (or even the laptops we choose) - or explicitly - through conversations about our favorite products and services (TiVo fanatics come to mind ... or should I say TiVumers?). And it seems increasingly natural - or at least prevalent - for physical world social and economic practices to migrate into the digital world, so these new social advertising tools on Facebook do not come as much of a surprise ... but they may come at a cost.

I remember a trip to Mexico, where I was struck by the mixture of social and economic networking that pervades commerce there. Everyone seems to be an agent for someone else. My son and I wanted to go on a fishing trip, and as soon as we'd parked the car, the parking lot attendant introduced us to a security guard who introduced us to a guy who then set us up with a boat and later a restaurant that would cook whatever we caught. I had the strong impression was that everything was based on commissions, and a network of social and economic relationships among different parking lot attendants, security guards, boat captains and restaurant owners. Everything was fine, but as a relentless optimizer, I kept wondering whether we could be getting better deals. I developed a measured distrust for the rest of our stay about many of the people we encountered, as everyone seemed to have a financial incentive to steer us toward certain people, places and activities. They weren't trying to help us find the best boat or restaurant, they were just trying to get some of the money we would spend there. Perhaps this pervasive commission backend exists in the U.S.A., and I just don't recognize it, but the experience was somewhat unsettling.

I suspect that more suspicion and measured distrust will creep into online social networking as more economic incentives enter the networks. Trust is an important component in any social network, although it may be less so in online networks that promote promiscuous linking (friending (and now fanning)). I do wonder, though, how the flow of trust in these networks will be affected by the flow of money. This  basically comes down to the conflict (or tension) between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivations: are you raving about something because you truly enjoy it and/or truly believe I would enjoy it, or because you be financially compensated for the influence you exert?

Jackie Hubba, co-author of the Church of the Customer blog (and the book Citizen Marketers), recently wrote about how fakers are bad for business, noting a study by Burson-Marsteller regarding e-fluentials  - people who are more likely to share their opinions and experiences with others, and thus influence purchase decisions - that show people are increasingly distrustful of reviews by people with an economic incentive to write those reviews:

People hate fakers when it comes to buying stuff. In fact, more than half of the people asked for a recent survey said they avoid buying from a company if they even suspect a paid professional is secretly behind the review of a typical, everyday person.

So what will happen when everyone is, potentially, a paid reviewer?

The Wall Street Journal had an article about a month ago on The Price of a Four Star Rating, in which they note some similar trends that are occuring in the blogosphere:

As online food sites become increasingly influential in the restaurant business, chefs and owners are plying bloggers with free meals to get good write-ups. Some are also posting favorable reviews about themselves on popular Web sites or becoming Internet scribes.

I wonder if Facebook Page owners will be plying potential fans with digital or physical freebies to entice them into explicit fandom.

I'll close with some provocative issues raised in a recent article by Chrstine Rosen in The New Atlantis on Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism:

Although social networking sites are in their infancy, we are seeing their impact culturally: in language (where to friend is now a verb), in politics (where it is de rigueur for presidential aspirants to catalogue their virtues on MySpace), and on college campuses (where not using Facebook can be a social handicap). But we are only beginning to come to grips with the consequences of our use of these sites: for friendship, and for our notions of privacy, authenticity, community, and identity. As with any new technological advance, we must consider what type of behavior online social networking encourages. Does this technology, with its constant demands to collect (friends and status), and perform (by marketing ourselves), in some ways undermine our ability to attain what it promises—a surer sense of who we are and where we belong? The Delphic oracle’s guidance was know thyself. Today, in the world of online social networks, the oracle’s advice might be show thyself.

With the recent Facebook announcement - and MySpace's earlier announcement of a "SelfServe" hyper-targeted affinity-based advertising network (which I won't even get into, given that I'm not a MySpace user, except to note that Jeremiah Owyang has posted a nice summary and analysis of the MySpace and Facebook advertising announcements) - I wonder if, in this week's newly expanded world of online socioeconomic networks, the oracle's advice might be sell thyself.

Marketing, Monitoring, Mattering

Watchingx USA Today ran an interesting front-page article on Monday about Marketers Take a Close Look at Your Daily Routines, detailing some of the ways and means that companies have employed to better understand the everyday use -- and potential use -- of their products. Much of the article focused on the monitoring tools and techniques used in market research, but what I found most interesting was the motivations of those who agree to be watched, which I would summarize as mattering (or, at least, wanting to matter [more]).

The article describes a number of examples of market research:

  • Microsoft, which has 300 people now devoted to observing people in the home, spent a few hours every three months videotaping people using Vista in their home.
  • Procter & Gamble, which spends $200M each year on consumer-focused research, has videotaped men (in swimsuits) showering in their homes, and followed women at home (including into their closets), at the office, shopping and dining out.
  • Kimberly-Clark uses a Consumer Vision System (mini video cameras mounted to visors and linked to a recording device) to better understand how people change diapers.
  • General Mills, which has shifted focus from focus groups to individuals, used artists in REI stores to visually depict [prospective] customers' vebal descriptions of ideal energy bars, and opened a Corner Market in Plymouth, MN, in which shoppers are paid to be observed while they shop (the term Panoptistore comes to mind).
  • Arm & Hammer sent teams of researchers and videographers into homes to investigate the contents and use of refrigerators and litter boxes.
  • Nissan took hundreds of photos of the trunks and interiors of the cars owned by young people.

Kimberlyclark I suspect the fact that this article was published on the first day of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems (CHI 2007) -- that I'm attending (and will blog about later) -- is entirely coincidental. CHI is one of the premier venues where companies who are willing to be open about their research present and/or demonstrate their innovative tools and techniques for gaining consumer insights. Microsoft has a significant presence here, but I can't say that I've encountered anyone from any of the other companies listed in the USA Today article, and it was difficult to track down references to most of the systems and sites listed in the article -- the photo to the left was from a Brandweek article on the Consumer Vision System -- and those companies don't appear to have [m]any unsanctioned externally facing blogs, or otherwise score high on the radical transparency scale ... even though they are, in effect, inviting their customers to be partners ... but I digress.

What I found most interesting about the article is a topic I've blogged about before: mattering. Microsoft offered free pizza and a free computer to the participants in its observation studies, Nissan paid its participants $50 for their time and efforts, and I'm sure the other companies offer participants some kind of financial or other tangible reward for their service. But what really mattered was mattering. Having some influence on the development of products and services is a significant motivation for those who agree to be monitored. The family observed by Microsoft affected the decision to rename "tools" to "folders" in Vista; a woman whose car was photographed by Nissan helped persuade Nissan to add more storage compartments (front seat CD holder and trunk separators) in its 2007 Sentra.

In addition to these examples of direct influence, I also suspect that simply being the subject of a study -- being videotaped, interviewed or otherwise being the object of focused attention -- also feeds people's natural desire to feel like they matter. This is probably a big factor in the popularity of YouTube, Flickr and other social media sharing sites ... including blogs ... er, including this one, which, despite my originally articulated goal of blogging for myself as a form of practice, does occasionally gain some attention ... and I will admit that I enjoy [that] attention ... I just don't want to be driven by it.

In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about how we humans get "hooked on attention" at an early age, and how that desire for attention is what renders us susceptible to "domestication" -- subsuming, and in some (many?) cases even submerging, our dreams, desires and delights in order to please others (rather than our selves). I regularly struggle with issues of acceptance, interdependence and the tension between wanting to be true to myself and wanting to please others (especially those who are important to me). I suppose that one of the appealing aspects of mattering through monitoring by market researchers is that subjects are asked, insofar as possible, to simply be themselves and go about their daily activities, so that new products and/or services can be better designed to support those activities. Seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement to me.

I Spy Eye Spy Advertising: Urinal Based Display Marketing and Captive Micro-audiences

I had lunch at Illusions Fayrouz Dining and Entertainment Club yesterday, and when I used the men's room after the meal, I discovered a set of small, currently inactive, display units above each urinal.



The web site listed on the display unit,, is "currently under construction" and I can't find any other information out about the company on the web. The manager of the restaurant told me that the units were working for a while a few months ago, showing 15 - 30 second videos (primarily advertisements) in a 15 minute loop, with the content being downloaded via a [wired] Internet connection.

I'm reminded of the EZ Show Network, which originally planned to deploy a digital signage network encompassing 500 convenience stores in the Pacific Northwest. They encountered formidable logistical challenges -- technically and in the sale cycle -- and recently changed ownership -- and business plans -- and are now focusing their deployment efforts on university bookstores.


I would not be surprised if Eye Spy Advertising encounters similar challenges, and I hope I will eventually get to see the system in action ... but meanwhile, this gives me a pretext within which to ruminate a bit about a topic of great, if somewhat prurient, interest to me: urinal-based display marketing, a niche within the larger area of captive micro-audience marketing.

I have encountered a variety of urinal-based displays -- interactive and non-interactive, low-tech and high-tech -- over the years. Shown below are photos of a chalkboard "interactive display" and a static display.



One of my favorite examples of this concept was the You're In Control (urine control) project at MIT Media Lab, an interesting blend of technology, sociology and culture:

Yicamanda The You’re In Control system uses computation to enhance the act of urination. Sensors in the back of a urinal detect the position of impact of a stream of urine, enabling the user to play interactive games on a screen mounted above the urinal.

While urination fulfills a basic bodily function, it is also an activity rich with social significance. Along with the refreshing release it provides, the act of micturition satisfies a primal urge to mark our territory. For women who visit the bathroom in groups and chat in neighboring stalls, urination can be a bonding ritual. For men who write their names in the snow, extinguish cigarettes, or congregate around lampposts to urinate, urination can be a test of skill and a way of asserting their masculinity.

Then, of course, came a multi-player version of this engaging concept, On Target, designed by Marcel Neundörfer (via Yanko Design):



Recessed into a urinal is a pressure-sensitive display screen. When the guest uses it, he triggers an interactive game, producing images and sound. The reduced size of the “target” improves restroom hygiene and saves on cleanings costs (like the “fly in the urinal” at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport). It also makes a trip to the urinal “fun and games” – more than just a necessary nuisance. By projecting the game experience into the public space, viewers are treated to a new way of visualizing the abstract, and the entertainment value is boosted. The projection of the project into a museum space was conceived of as a critical-ironic measure, questioning the concept of art, but extending it at the same time. “On target” is an interactive installation with the functional purpose of improving hygiene.

I remember encountering a photo of another example of a multi-player, or at least multi-station, system of urinal-based displays ... unfortunately, while I downloaded the photo of the installation, I did not note the source.


The manager at Illusions said while Eye Spy Advertising offered the restaurant a slot in its content rotation, the company did not offer the restaurant any revenue sharing options (unlike the earlier business plan for EZ Show Network, which did include a small cut for the convenience store operators). He also said that while people (well, men) came back from the men's room talking about the brands that were advertised on the displays (e.g., a Smirnoff ad), he didn't think that the ads actually influenced any purchase decisions.

I don't know whether Eye Spy Advertising will ever get its units up and running again (sorry, couldn't resist), but I look forward to a future in which I have something more interesting to look forward at, and perhaps interact with, during men's rooms visits.

[Update, 2008-01-09: Michael's comment prompted me to return to Illusions to see whether/how the Eye Spy Advertising displays are working - they are currently working, cycling through five ads (photos below).]

Eye Spy Advertising: Table For Six Eye Spy Advertising: Oasis Casino Eye Spy Advertising: Smirnoff Eye Spy Advertising: Eye Spy Advertising Eye Spy Advertising: Place Ad Here

Eye Spy Advertising @ Illusions Supper Club

Co-promotional Considerations: Customerization and The Brand "Us"

Peter van Stolk, founder, president and CEO of Jones Soda, gave an energetic, inspiring and irreverent presentation at this month's NWEN Venture Breakfast on being relevant and real to, for and with your customers. The official title was "Creating Meaningful Relationships with Customers", but the unofficial title might be better expressed as "Marketing in a time when no one cares". [Note: The MP3 and slides from Peter's NWEN talk are not yet available, but much of the content -- and spirit -- of his talk can be found in the Fast Company article Jonesing for Soda.]

Jones Soda doesn't play by the usual rules of market competition: instead of choosing battlefields where their competitors might be defeated, they look for where their competitors ain't, and channel their energies into those fields of play ... an interesting variation of guerilla marketing, but more aligned with the art of play than the art of war. They particularly seek out people who are passionate about what they do -- musicians, extreme sports athletes, spelling bee competitors -- and sponsor their events and/or set up Jones Soda display cases in businesses that support those kinds of people (e.g., surf shops).

Peter shared a number of ways that Jones Soda creates and maintains emotional connections with its customers.  The one that I found most innovative and relevant was the Jones Soda Photo Gallery, which contains 786,000 of the over 4.5 million photos that Jones Soda customers have submitted as candidates for inclusion on a future Jones Soda bottle label (see an example above, from the January 2006 run). As Peter said, "you don't tell people you're cool, you let others tell people you're cool" ... and what better way to motivate customers to tell people how cool Jones Soda is than to put their photos on the labels?


I don't drink soda, and so while Jones Soda has been customerizing its labels since 2001, this was news to me. I also don't eat snack bars, so when I got home from the breakfast, and told my wife about how cool Jones Soda was, I was surprised when she showed me a Luna Bar that offered a slightly different variation of customerization -- using words instead of photos -- to enable customers to share "a dedication to a special woman in your life".



Yana Kushner, director of Luna equity and advanced product development at Clif Bar (who makes Luna Bars), also invoked the concepts of passion, excitement and connection in a Fast Company article about Brands We Love [note to self: subscribe to Fast Company again]:

A couple of years ago, we started something on the back of the bar called "Luna Dedication," where the women of Luna wrote personal dedications to women who have touched their lives in some way. By giving them a piece of ourselves, they feel part of the Luna family. It's a two-way street. It keeps them excited and passionate, and it also keeps us internally passionate.

I had earlier speculated on the evolving nature of promotional considerations as new social marketing channels arise, noting possible conflicts of interest that may diminish the potential impact of some of these channels (e.g., how much can we trust reviews by people who may derive direct financial benefit from the products or services they are reviewing). What I particularly like about the Jones and Luna customerization techniques is that they are really co-promotional: customers whose visual or verbal content is co-opted for use on labels can promote themselves (and/or their loved ones) along with the product(s) they are telling people about. Neither Jones nor Luna offers any financial incentive to people whose content is chosen for co-promotion on their labels; the wealth they are sharing is attentional rather than financial.

A few days after the NWEN breakfast, Biznik co-founder Dan McComb implemented a new feature on the Biznik web site that might be viewed as offering attention in return for attendance: showing photos of bizniks who were at an event (e.g., the Biznik Happy Hour). Although he could have simply listed the names of people who were there, showing the photos adds an extra dimension of recognition and acknowledgment, and I suspect this will provide more incentive for bizniks to both attend an event and to go back and review the events. It would be interesting to study the motivational differences between listing people's names and listing their names + photos in different contexts.


And, speaking of promotion, motivation and photos, I would be remiss not to comment on how Interrelativity offers a mechanism for co-promotion through our proactive display application -- most recently deployed at the Biznik Happy Hour -- which provides new opportunities for people to connect with one another by showing content from people's profiles on a large computer display when they are detected nearby. We interleave the display of sponsor profiles with attendee profiles -- providing each sponsor and attendee 10 seconds of fame in a revolving window of attention -- so that people can learn more about sponsors while they are learning about each other (examples of sponsor profiles for the BalMar and Biznik, with an attendee profile for me in between, are shown below).

Balmar_1 Joe_1 Biznik_1

Each time we have deployed our system, surveys have shown that people have learned new things about both people they hadn't met as well as people they already know. And, although we haven't explicitly asked this question, observations and informal interviews suggest that people enjoy seeing their own profiles shown on the big plasma display as much as they enjoy seeing other profiles. Our latest surveys have also been investigating whether people are also learning things about the sponsors ... who, at least in the current business model, are the ones who will be paying for the co-promotional considerations.

Awarea: Taking RFID to the Streets

Around 1997, I shifted my research focus from artificial intelligence to ubiquitous computing, and started exploring -- and working with others to create examples of -- what I called active environments: physical spaces that can sense and respond in contextually appropriate ways to their inhabitants.  One of the things I learned from my AI research experience was the importance of constraining a problem to make it [more] tractable.  Ubiquitous Computing has a rather broad scope -- encompassing computer technology permeating [potentially] every facet of our physical environments -- so in order to make progress in this area, I decided to focus on potential future scenarios involving the novel integration of technology into single rooms (such as MusicFX), or subregions within a building (e.g., ActiveMap).  I sometimes affectionately referred to this focus on active environments as "UbiComp in a Box".


Myomni Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting with Harry H. Hart, III, the CEO of Awarea Corporation, who started exploring the idea of activating spaces around the same time that I did, but from an entrepreneurial perspective ... and with a willingness to break out of the box[es] and deploy RFID technology on the streets of Seattle (and soon, Vancouver, BC).  Awarea uses active radio frequency identification (RFID) tags -- called MyOmni's, with a convenient keychain attachment -- and a network of RFID readers and activators -- creating OmniZones -- to sense when users are nearby and respond with a targeted marketing message that takes the form of a text message sent to the user's mobile phone and/or some kind of audio and/or video message broadcast on a speaker or large display.  The left photo here shows Harry with his MyOmni device (a closeup of which is shown in the right photo) standing next to a public telephone booth outside of the Nordstrom flagship store near Westlake Center that has an OmniZone antenna mounted atop a loudspeaker system.

There are currently 16 OmniZones throughout Seattle (browsable via this interactive map), and Awarea has signed up 30 companies on whose behalf it is using the network to send targeted marketing messages to approximately 1000 users.  To sign up for the service, users are required to enter contact information (including a mobile phone email address) on a web site, and then during a followup phone call, are asked about demographic / psychographic data such as

  • Your favorite radio station
  • How often do you dine out
  • How often do you attend movies, sporting events, or other activities
  • What newspaper do you read
  • Your favorite TV shows
  • How often do you shop downtown

There are four classes of OmniZone:

  • Silver: mobile phone text message delivery only
  • Gold: silver level service plus a broadcast audio message (WAV file), as shown in the photo above
  • Platinum: gold level service plus a large display for short video files
  • TItanium: platinum level service plus additional features (TBD)

The MyOmni device -- which, along with most of the other RFID equipment, is manufactured by Axcess, Inc. -- has a single button that can be used to request a targeted message (it can also be programmed by Awarea for other functions).  Harry spends so much time in OmniZones (in fact, he rang in the New Year at the one shown above) that he has set his profile to decline all messages unless / until he specifically requests a message via that button.  He demonstrated a few examples of targeted audio messages at gold OmniZones around Westlake Center (one such message, promoting NetFlix, can be heard in this WAV file; I also heard one promoting The Body Shop ... as we were standing outside the store at 600 Pine Street).

Aside from the obvious tecnnological parallels between Awarea's [platinum] OmniZones and Interrelativity's proactive displays, both of which use RFID technology to sense and respond (in different ways) to people nearby, the systems also share some similar social impacts.  Given the reactions that I observed from people as they heard the "voice from the heavens " (or the phone booths) -- BTW, Harry is the voice talent in all the audio messages -- I imagine that MyOmni users may well spark interesting conversations in OmniZones ("What was that?", "Where did that come from?", "What did he say?", "Where is the Body Shop?", "How much of a discount?").  And Awarea plans to add new features with mobile social software (MoSoSo) capabilities, e.g., the ability for MyOmni users to specify a "buddy list" of other users, and receive notifications whenever their friends are in the same, or nearby, OmniZone.

One of Harry's initial motivations for this work was to aid blind people as they navigate urban areas; unfortunately, while he found receptivity to this idea, he was unable to find a revenue stream to support it (a plight I can identify with, and have heard and read about as being a common challenge for other entrepreneurs), which is why the current focus is on targeted marketing.

I first met Harry at the recent Dorkbot meeting on RFID.  Interestingly, in updating my RFID Resources material for my presentation at the event, I discovered a fabulous, futuristic short film, The Catalogue, by Chris Oakley, that depicts people in a multi-level shopping mall (that looks remarkably like Westlake Center), with overlays depicting the information that might be automatically extracted about those people, the objects they encounter, the places they visit, and the activities in which they engage, if / when RFID technology becomes more pervasive (and accurate) ... highlighting the challenges for companies like Awarea -- and Interrelativity -- to define compelling value propositions in which the benefits to users outweigh the [potential] privacy costs.

[Update, 2008-04-04: My colleague, Nick Chiarulli, at the new MyStrands Labs, NYC, sent me a link to some related work - a short-lived experiment on advertising via directed ultrasonic beams in NYC.]