2015 February SXSWorld


Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 31 of 63

3 0 S X S W o r l d | F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 5 | S X S W. C O M eacons are small transmitters that operate on low-power Bluetooth frequencies and interact with nearby mobile devices. And in 2015, dubbed "the year of the beacon" by InfoWorld, we are likely to encounter beacons in an ever-broadening range of locales—including in and around SXSW. If you visited a shopping center recently, there is a good chance that you and your smartphone have come within range of Bluetooth beacons. Retailers, such as Macy's, the Apple Store and GameStop, may install dozens of beacons per store to enhance floor coverage and enable narrow targeting. The goal: luring shoppers into brick-and-mortar stores with coupons and content triggered exclusively by physical proximity. For example, a clothing store may post a beacon near a display and send out alerts on new styles or discounted pricing offers. Only those shoppers who have downloaded the retailer's app, switched on Bluetooth and walked within range of that beacon would receive its notifications. While such beacons just began appearing within the last couple of years, they seem to be having a real impact on shopping behaviors. In November, Swirl Networks released a three-month study indicating that 60 percent of shoppers using in-store apps at monitored retailers engaged with beacon notifications. Half of those ended up redeeming beacon-communicated promo- tions. Remember that this is while public awareness of beacons is still quite low. "There are probably a lot more practical uses that go beyond marketing and ads, such as frequent-shopper rewards that would automatically come up when you enter a favorite business, location-aware services in airports, museums, schools, hospitals and the workplace," said Omar Gallaga, who writes about technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. "We're in a weird place where we're more wary than ever of our devices, businesses and the government tracking our motions," he continues. "But on the other hand, if we're aware of what's happening and opt in, it opens up a lot of possibilities for how we interact with our environments and get more relevant, contextual information on the go." Indeed, beacons are being deployed in many places. Levi's Stadium, the new home to the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, debuted an app that uses beacons to provide such game day information as open parking spots, shortest bathroom wait times and even directions to one's ticketed seats. London's new skyscraper, The Shard (cur- rently the tallest building in the European Union), is adding beacons to help sightseers identify and learn about landmarks visible from its viewing platforms. While 2015 looks to be a breakout year for beacons, they actually made their SXSW debut last year. Attendees who installed the SXSW GO app and linked their SXSocial account could have their Registration QuickCode pulled up automatically upon entering the Austin Convention Center reg- istration hall. Select session rooms also used beacons to facilitate threaded conversations within the app. It was, by design, a limited initial deployment. "We did a small rollout, which was still the largest of its kind in the world for an event," said Ben West, co-founder of Eventbase, which develops the app in partnership with SXSW. "Given the size of SXSW, we didn't want to come out of the gate with an imple- mentation in every single venue and session. We wanted to roll out in a few key venues and really do some learning on how people reacted to the technology." West says that they found that many attendees were willing and even eager to turn on Bluetooth, engage with the app and share their feedback. That, in turn, led to the development of new features coming to SXSW GO this March. Around Me, which will enable attendees to view a live listing of who is nearby and prioritize by key interests, is the new func- tionality that West finds most exciting. He describes it as hyper-local networking. "Instead of searching around a very large room and hoping to strike up a random conversation with someone that has some relevant experience," he explains, "you can do a little research when you come into the room. You can see who else is there; search for, say, 'mobile technology.' Then find experts and message them—all from within the app." If this doesn't sound enticing, West added that you can always opt out or manage your visibility: "During the initial install, we have messaging that tells you what the features are that will utilize the technology and gives you the option to turn on or off the permis- sions. And since we're leveraging SXSocial, you can always self-moderate your profile and include whatever information you are open to sharing." Networking isn't the only new use for beacons this SXSW. Music fans can receive venue-specific notifications to let them know who else is playing a showcase at that stage on a given night. Additionally, the threaded conversations and real-time polling in the app's Session Live section will be expanded to nearly all panel sessions. As for what is next with beacon tech- nology, whether around SXSW or the world at large, the options are seemingly endless. Gallaga points to fast indoor navigation as one area ripe for development. West sees beacons as ideal for making signs and media instantly accessible to mixed-language audi- ences. The only sure thing is that our mobile devices will continue to encounter beacon signals in more and more locations. For more information about the SXSW® GO app, visit SXSW GO Uses Beacons to Identify Nearby Common Interest Registrants by Patrick nichoLs B e n Wes t of E ve n t b a s e. B J O H N S I N A L

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of SXSWORLD - 2015 February SXSWorld