In the Opt-In Economy you’ll be Dropping Beacons Everywhere

imageBeacons are everywhere.

We are entering a Beacon Based and Opt-In Economy. Where the “opt-in” aspect is where you willingly allow your data and data exhaust to be tracked. And Beacons are one of the ways we are leaving a piece of us out there.

The Internet of Things (IoT) movement is making it both common and practical to be able to control, manage and perhaps even measure where our digital exhaust ends up.

Beacons Aren’t Bad

The use of beacons has been around for many years. One of the more obvious and common uses of beacons come from the invention of the lighthouse. Where the lighthouse was a beacon to allow and alert sailors nearing the port. The same basic model holds true for digital beacons.

imageBeacons are something we leave behind or otherwise purposefully place so that others can be aware, warned or just informed. The use of beacons is leading the opt-in economy.

Fun Fact: The first lighthouse was built in 270-290 BC and was 450 feet tall. See Pharos.

The use of beacons, that we agree to be placed on our behalf, is at the leading edge of the mCommerce movement. Where mCommerce is the creation and implementation of mobile commerce. Although not a new concept the ideas, practices and use of your beacons are being built into solutions. Your beacons reflect your willingness to expose your information.

Prediction: Some beacons will be issued to everyone as a level of protection and identification. While this may seem a bit Big Brother’ish (and it is) there is sometimes a logical need to know who is in a building or vehicle. Of course, this can go much too far. As evidenced, even on a simple level, with the use of Stingrays.

Several companies are working hard to insure your beacons help you to be more productive, find a better product or price, and also to protect you. Generally, these beacons exist in the digital world, but as the divide between the physical and digital world becomes more and more blurred there is a lot of cross over to personal physical security too.

Fact: There will always be the unwilling tracking of your data exhaust. Cookies, Searches, and much more than most realize. By having a little more control over what beacons you choose to leave behind this practice may be curtailed (or channeled into new business opportunities).

A few companies that are working hard to make it easier for both the consumer and the companies (or government agencies) to help people get the most from their beacons and mCommerce efforts are VMob and Orckestra. They are coming at this from slightly different angles, but the intent is to smooth the process for both the people and those that would like to serve them.

imageBoth VMob and Orckestra were highlighted at the most recent Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC).

Digital Marketing in a Physical World

There is a line that is being blurred between the physical and digital worlds. In the past these worlds were somewhat separate and hard to integrate. Now, with mobile phones being on all the time they can be used as beacons.

For better or worse these devices are always sending and receiving signals. A few companies have figured out how to help businesses and the individual get the most out of the beacons your are throwing around.

  • Retailers – When you walk into a store imagine the store knows your size, your preferences, and depending upon your preferences it might know your most recent searches. With this information the store can tailor (pun intended) a perfect experience just for you.
  • Airports – Imagine you walk into an airport. You don’t need to print your tickets. These are sent over-the-air to your device. You don’t need to pay for food and drinks at the food court with cash or a credit card. Again, your mCommerce transaction happens over-the-air and in real-time. When it comes time to board the plane … subtle alerts can let you know when the time is right.
  • Traffic – Of course, anyone that drives a lot has probably tried Waze. It is an amazing tool for skirting traffic jams. It’s a perfect example of an opt-in economy solution. It’s crowd-sourced and people are relying upon other users to provide accurate information
  • First Responders – As mentioned above there are times it would be nice to know just who is in a building. Also, if there are any specific physical conditions to be aware of in order to properly triage a situation.

Are some of these scenarios a bit too over the top and too much like Big Brother? Sure. But, most of the information I just described is readily available today and is being spewed off your device, your search history and via other means right now.

Factors to Consider

There will always be a need for each and every one of your Opt-In Efforts with the vendors you have entrusted to provide a consistent and high level of data security. Each vendor needs to be very clear and very transparent to how they will provide the following points:

  • Privacy
  • Sovereignty
  • Protection

You as a user (should) have a right to decide when, where and how you information and your beacons will be used. Today that’s not a guaranteed situation. Most people have opt-out of a lot of their rights with various social media applications and even within their own grocery store.

As your beacons continue to span the digital and physical world you will want to exert more control over both your intentionally placed beacons and your digital exhaust. The smart vendors and retailers will continue to make this process easier and more transparent.

Digital Exhaust Happens!

Don’t forget … Everywhere you go you are leaving Digital Footprints. Some of those footprints are Beacons. Some you may not intend to leave and want to leave. Others are just artifacts. These artifacts may not seem very important at the time you leave them, but may become very valuable and useful and some point in the future. As I wrote about in this post Dealing with Digital Exhaust.

For example, you may leave a beacon / footprint at a restaurant or on the highway. If something happens you might want that data stream later to evaluate the scenario and perhaps recreate some steps. As I mentioned above in relation to First Responders. So, not all digital exhaust is bad. Just be aware that you are always excreting something.

This is part of the Opt-In Economy. You are part of the Opt-In Economy.

image credits: MIT Media Lab, Hermann Thiersch, Computerworld


Jeff is an expert in the Enterprise Content Management industry. He brings over 20 years of Channel Sales, Partner Marketing and Alliance expertise to audiences around the world in speaking engagements and via his writing. He has worked for Microsoft, Kodak, and K2. He is currently the consulting with Microsoft and partners to drive Community Engagement and Alliances.

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@jshuey or connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+ He is active in the Microsoft Partner Community and is the co-founder and President of the IAMCP Seattle chapter.

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