The Scoop On Proximity Services Like Sonar
Every year at SXSW Interactive (one of the largest interactive conferences in the world), the question always comes around to which new technology or mobile app will make a big splash. In the past, Twitter (2006) and foursquare (2009) have dominated conversations at the event where more than 100,000 of the world’s most social digerati descend upon Austin, TX.
Last year, the belles of the ball were three companies — Sonar, Highlight and banjo — which introduced the concept of something called a proximity service. The value proposition with this type of service is that if you connect these apps to your social/location-based networks, it can alert you when someone in your social graph is nearby.
During this ten-minute video podcast, my co-host Kyle Flaherty and I recorded last year at SXSW with book co-author Mike Schneider and Sonar CEO Brett Martin, we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of these services.
What’s interesting is that if we fast forward a year, these proximity services haven’t progressed significantly from an adoption or technology perspective. I still see people using them, and once in a blue moon, I’ll flip one, especially if I’m traveling in another city.
The problem is, as stand alone applications, proximity services aren’t particularly helpful for the average person. Most people don’t have a ton of people in their social graph (average number of friends on Facebook is still in the hundreds) and on average, most people don’t travel far beyond the same four or five places every day (home, coffee shop, work, daycare, etc.)
But, all hope is not lost for these services. And in fact, there are several practical applications for these types of services (I also expect to see an acquisition or consolidation or two this year) in the not too distant future.
• What if when you walked into a retail shop, you could immediately be alerted to which of your favorite reps are on the floor. Or maybe your least favorite reps. Go one better, think about the ability of businesses being able to incorporate proximity services into their loyalty programs so the minute you walk in, they know who you are, what your preferences are and could greet you by name?
• Think about the possibility of an airline knowing where its passengers are the moment they enter an airport, allowing them to not only intelligently alert customers (your flight is delayed so don’t worry about rushing through security) or letting passengers know that their gate has changed, presenting them with directions on the fastest way to get there?
• And finally, think about your favorite coffee shop being notified that you are within a half mile and being able to correlate it with the fact that you are within 15 minutes of the time you normally stop by. Instead of making you wait in line, your mobile app pops up a message that asks if you are coming in and if so, do you plan to get your usual skinny cinnamon latte so that they can have it waiting when you arrive.
I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a value to proximity services but, as currently constituted, there just isn’t enough “there” there. Over time, however, as we all become more connected, more comfortable with technology/privacy/security, there will be a greater desire to know which of your friends, co-workers and family members are nearby. In the meantime, don’t expect to hear that any of the current proximity services have gone over the 100 million member mark.
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