Fear the goggles?

You’re in a room full of people at a post-event party, and the atmosphere is informal and laid-back. You’re there to unwind a bit after a long day, and to meet interesting people. Scanning the room, it’s hard to know where to begin, so you take out your smartphone, activate the app you purchased the night before, and hold it up to the crowd. Real-time information is layered over the partygoers—everything from marital status to employer—and it’s simply too much to process. So, you begin to filter.

“Show me only Twitter users.” A third of the crowd, as viewed through your phone, is blurred out.

Now, your networking instincts kick in. There are still too many people on screen to actively engage with. More filters.

“Show me only Twitter users with 3,000 or more followers.” All but ten individuals now appear as gray blurs. Now you’re ready to rub elbows—starting with the person with the highest Klout score, of course.

In that crowd of blurs was someone that attended the same college, graduating with you. There was someone in that crowd that is equally fanatic about your favorite band, or is a big design geek, just like you. There are also people that you have very little in common with, but lead fascinating lives, and you filtered them out.

In the scenario above, I’ve expanded upon an idea offered up in a fantastic presentation on Augmented Reality, given by John C .Havens and Lynne D. Johnson at SXSWi. Although it was just a small part of the session’s content, I couldn’t stop thinking about one question they alluded to:

Will Augmented Reality filter out serendipity?

Given the examples above, we know that it certainly has the potential to eliminate at least some of the more random positive encounters and experiences we have in our lives. But AR can also be a great enabler of serendipity. Check out the video below (link for our email subscribers here):

Most shoppers at the London mall simply happened upon the floor spot, or the crowds that stood mesmerized by the fallen angels. In this time, before the campaign became a word-of-mouth phenomenon, AR had provided a serendipitous experience (and the campaign resulted in a tremendous amount of buzz).

In a small way, I’ve experienced this sense of discovery through my own use of AR. When the Yelp app’s Monocle feature first arrived in “Easter egg” form, I immediately sought out things in my neighborhood that were not yet on my mental map. Holding my phone up outside and spinning around slowly, I happened upon a marker for Dry Creek Cafe & Boat Dock, listed as a bar. I didn’t think there were any bars in my home’s vicinity, let alone one with 21 reviews averaging 4 out of 5 stars. The next week, I invited a coworker to check it out with me, and had a fantastic experience at the picturesque old watering hole—now one of my favorite spots in Austin.

Location-based services like Foursquare provide a preview of the kind of serendipity AR will eventually power. By following History Channel’s Foursquare account, for instance, users can add a layer of history to their normal check-ins. If we were to check in to Bermondsey Square, London, History Channel would inform us that, “A Benedictine abbey was built on the site of Bermondsey Square in the 12th century. Catherine, wife of Henry V, died here, as did Elizabeth Woodville, mother of the two ‘Princes in the Tower.’”

End-users aside for a moment, should AR be enchanting marketers? We know that unless your marketing efforts are only aimed at early adopters, investing too heavily in shiny objects that haven’t yet gained mass adoption is normally unwise. But Lynne Johnson and John Havens provided an incredibly helpful way to think of the adoption path of newer technologies:

Utility + Ease of Use + Privacy/Marketing Awareness = Transformation

And they gave plenty of real-world examples of AR campaigns yielding significant ROI to brands. PC maker Acer teamed up with Dabs.com to provide site visitors a 3 dimensional view of themselves holding an Aspire 5738D laptop. According to the presenters, 70% of site visitors tried the AR functionality, of which 13% purchased the laptop. That’s far from a gimmick!

LEGO, our client, was featured as having provided real utility with its AR campaign. Shoppers in the LEGO Store are able to hold up an unopened box of LEGOs and instantly see the set fully assembled, from many angles (link for our email subscribers here):

It’s clear that Augmented Reality has real value to consumers and marketers. It’s also clear that it can and will be used in ways we might take objection to, as is any emerging, powerful technology. If we use it only as a tool for filtering our reality and limiting our experiences, there is a real risk that we’re also filtering out the unexpected—the moments in life that can make it special and unique. Far more, however, will use AR as a means of discovery—as a means of producing serendipity—and that’s something to celebrate, not fear.

4 Responses to “Will Augmented Reality filter out serendipity?”

  1. I love that dichotomy, “replacement or complement”. The word “augment” suggests that AR is complimentary by design, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

  2. Anonymous

    You started the conversation by way of ethics; sort of. I was compelled to respond. I used Buber as a vehicle to respond because Buber is universally applicable: Humans extant and extinct meet technology’s forking path of “replacement or complement.” Fire. Alchemy. Paper currency. The Native Americans reticence to have their photograph taken. Industrial automation. Bar coding. Robots.

    Your post brings to bear a small piece of a new chapter.

    You may enjoy this article from WSJ, 8/2010: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703579804575441461191438330.html

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Good stuff.

  3. Jason-

    I’m not going to pretend to fully grasp what you’re alluding to here. You’ve pinged me on Twitter, and I suppose we should take the conversation there. Hopefully, your quote indicates that my post made you think–and for that, I’m happy!

  4. Anonymous

    “This is the eternal origin of art that a human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him. Not a figment of his soul but something that appears to the soul and demands the soul’s creative power. What is required is a deed that a man does with his whole being..” — Martin Buber (I and Thou)

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