Bringing Home the Beacon


I keep reading very positive articles and blog posts about how iBeacons and, in general, BLE beacons will forever change how we experience the physical world, how shopping environments will be reinvented, and how we might now be able to finally close the loop between online and offline consumer experiences.

As seducing as it may sound, this beacon-centric vision always misses a harsh reality: without consumer opt-in, you don’t have anything.

As with any marketplace, there’s two sides of the equation with their own specific friction points:

  • Physical deployment of beacons: the hardware is cheap, robust and, in some cases, even elegant. But you still need to get it deployed. Might be fast, might be slower than expected, but it will take some time
  • Pervasive integration of each SDK in apps. At the core of the solution, you still need a consumer opt-in. You need the user to download an app that includes the SDK of the beacon manufacturer. And you also need that consumer to have bluetooth on. 

A lot of over-optimistic articles point out retailers as the first wave of early adopters. Now have some fun and go check the apps of your biggest retailers: check Macy’s for example. Arguably, the most successful of these retailers (retail in the broad sense of offline commerce) is Starbucks along with Walgreens behind. When you check rankings in downloads, Starbucks comes in only at #100, Walgreens at #142 and then, way behind, Target at #347.

It’s safe to say that downloads are minimums for the large majority of retailers. Without an app though, no communication with the users in your store. The alternate strategy would be to push your SDK in someone’s else app. Also skeptical on that: mostly because I feel that mobile SDKs are the new, “let me drop a quick javascript on the back of your website…” There’s an overload of mobile SDKs that are trying to do anything from tracking usage, pushing ads, retargeting etc.

For beacons to become the large opportunity that most of the journalists are excited about, you’ll need the onboarding of a few very large players. This is who I think could move the needle:

  • OS players like Apple and Android could change the game by making the iBeacon messaging opt-out rather than opt-in. There’s plenty of user experience and privacy issues with such a decision, but if beacons are actually widespread, there’s also the opportunity of creating an “Adsense for the physical world.” 
  • OEMs, in conjunction with OS players could go after the same opportunity. Samsung is an obvious and likely candidate.
  • Very, very large mobile app players could embrace the SDK in their app if there’s a tight integration with their product. Facebook immediately comes to mind: tying up FB SMBs pages with offline messaging opportunity, tying up sponsored posts and FB ads with an offline extension. Right behind, you could imagine Yelp or Foursquare (although probably lacking critical mass to make it relevant).

In the meantime, stop telling me that the deployment of 250 beacons in Apple stores is changing the game. It’s not, yet.

The new definitions of privacy on the web

My Homepage with my Tumblr Blog Feed opened

Upon the sharing of a friend on Facebook (ahhh… the power of social recommendation…), I discovered a new service called  in which enables anyone to build a personalized page on himself or anyone else and then link to it the main social content production factories. They currently carry 14 services including Facebook, Tumblr but also your DVD queue from Netflix, your checkins from Foursquare or the last tracks you’ve been listening on
Once you’ve added all services, the user coming to your page can click on the services you’ve added and a window will display whatever stream of activity you’ve had on that specific service.
Testing it yesterday, I mechanically added all the services I’m using including Netflix and Foursquare. Once I realized that everybody could then follow my physical traces around NY through Foursquare or all photos that I posted to Facebook (and where these only get displayed to a selected list of people), I freaked out and decided to limit that to only the safer LinkedIn and other Twitter feeds.

Well, boy, it was easy to add services but it was a nightmare to remove them. doesn’t include a “Remove The Service” option… Sure, they’re in beta but given the nature of their business, that should probably be part of your MVP feature… So then I went to all the services I wanted to get off my page and remove the authorization for to access these data. But even with that, kept the latest stream of data imported. Sure, nothing new was going to get published but all of the content previously imported was visible.

I ended terminating my account at to clean it. Don’t get me wrong, I think the service is pretty neat (rebuilding a page right now), but I was a little taken aback by the difficulty to keep track of all your social traces. That comes around a fairly large debate, initially provoked by the launch of PleaseRobMe which list empty homes by tapping into Twitter API. While Foursquare is a closed network (you need to approve your friends), more and more people link it automatically with their Twitter account which is an open network, all of a sudden revealing to anyone who wants to find it whether you’re at home or not. Foursquare countered back on that issue but this is just the beginning of more and more debates around open systems.

One of the key improvements there would probably be for the main companies that offers to link your accounts to open systems like Twitter to state clearly that you pushing out data on the open. I also think that the details of permissions given to 3rd-party services should be much more detailed on networks like Facebook and Twitter. You basically should be able to have the same detail of what you’re authoring and to whom as you have in your Facebook privacy settings. For once, I might be pretty ok (actually I know I would…) to display on my Foursquare badges, but not necessarily all my checkins…

The photo above shows my welcome screen on with my Tumblr blog feed open

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