Physical Web Strategies

Goodbye Tower of Babel. Hello, rest of the world.

We are already starting to hyperlink the physical world like we have the Web. Your smartphone can use “augmented reality” applications to get information that is linked to physical objects and entities.

Point your phone at any one of 90 million homes, and the HomeSnap app will tell you all about it. Turn your phone towards the village center and Yelp will show you the direction of each restaurant, along with reviews for each. The award-winning astronomy app StarWalk turns an iPad into a magical tool for stargazers, identifying any constellation when you point the iPad in its direction.

Imagine you are traveling in Spain and don’t speak Spanish. Word Lens lets you point your phone at any sign or printed page, and it replaces all the Spanish words with English ones. This is so effective it’s almost creepy; you still see the sign, but the words you can understand replace the ones you cannot.

Room 77 helps discriminating travelers search hotels room-by-room by amenities and floor plans.

Bookmark a tree, building or beach

As you make new discoveries in the real world, you will be able to bookmark them. If you are hiking deep in the woods and discover a beautiful clearing under a giant oak tree, you can bookmark it so you can easily find it on your next visit.

SoundHound lets you identify any song you hear playing, even if it’s simply being sung by a kid on a street corner. Microsoft Tag and Google Goggles both allow companies to tag products so that customers can simply scan a code and see whatever information, demonstrations or offers the company chooses to attach. Such elements can be changed in real time, to enable timely offers or to accommodate sifting inventories. Think of a blouse with such a tag; the attached offer could promote 50% off a matching skirt, until that skirt is sold out and the offer immediately shifts to promote a different accessory.

UpNext offers 3D maps of major American cities, which let you zoom in on any section, block or building. This app lets you immediately get a sense of distance between locations, or simply learn what the building you are headed towards looks like. If you are looking for an Asian restaurant in a neighborhood or a fun attraction, UpNext highlights all the buildings that meet your criteria and gives you a concise written summary of each. Thanks to integration with Foursquare, the app can also help you find nearby places where your friends are currently gathering.

Get the idea? We are in the early stages of tagging and linking the physical world, but that doesn’t mean that it is far off in the future. Much of the necessary technology already exists. It means that most corporate executives and business strategies have not yet recognized that the real world is being linked like the Web – but with more impactful consequences.

To anticipate the business opportunities to come, we suggest you think both small and large. Physical Web technology will solve small but frequent problems like losing your keys in your house, your car in a parking lot, or your kids outside playing.

It will also tackle huge problems like companies not really understanding which of their activities are profitable, which processes are broken, and which customers represent the future of their industry. Linking the real world will allow both managers and individuals to take an increasingly granular view of the world, understanding what works and why.

As the Physical Web rises, pretty much everything a company does for its customers will become more interactive, dynamic and open to scrutiny.

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