The Physical Web

The Physical Web

Jun 19 2015 | by PAUL RUSSELL

What is The Physical Web?

You may have already come across Beacons and Apple iBeacons - in brief, they are used to transmit an ID over Bluetooth low energy that allows apps to connect. Currently, Beacons are being used most often by retailers to find out their customers’ location in order to show them localised information and marketing messages.

It sounds like a great idea, especially for retailers who can let their customers know about extra product details or great offers depending on where they are in the store... But the question is: Have you managed to engage with your customers before they entered your shop? And even so, can you be sure that they have already downloaded your app (which, of course, contains all the clever iBeacon tech…)?

Now that puts a spanner in the works.

Not a problem... we'll just put up a  big poster advertising our app in all of our stores, notifying customers of this great new feature in the app.

Sure, some customers may see that and download your app, if your store is in one of those super-fast 4G areas. In reality, it’s unlikely. Most customers will choose not to spend their valuable shopping time battling with a download in an area where a third world country probably gets better connectivity! And even with free Wi-Fi, very few customers can be bothered to enter their details to get past your gateway screen in the first place, let alone access their app store.

Even if you scrap the app and just ask customers to check out your website, they are probably only going to use their mobile browser in store to check if they’re better off ordering it from Amazon. Plus, URLs are a pain to type into the browser, especially on mobile devices; an issue that someone tried to solve once with the invention of the QR code…

Apparently, other countries love a QR code. It's just the UK that take a strong dislike to them. It is a pain trying to take a photo of one, especially if some smart marketer plastered it on the side of a bus or taxi that's travelling at speed down the road.

However, someone may have actually come up with the solution to all of these problems - UriBeacons! As it says on the tin, it's a URI (URL) in a beacon. You simply stick the beacon to something, and it broadcasts a URL.

Wow... that's like the web in the physical world!

You could even control the content on the back of that URL via your CMS - just like any other part of your website - how cool is that?

So how do people find these URLs out there in the physical world...?

...They download the app.

What! How's that any better? Paul, you're a fool!

Well, let me explain. It could be a single app that finds all of these physical web URLs, no matter who owns the beacon. Like a search engine for the physical web.

Okay, I can tell you are not quite convinced, so I have some good news I haven't shared yet... UriBeacons are an open technology being pushed by Google. And guess what they want to do with it? They want to integrate the beacon finder bit as part of their Chrome browser. That way, when you fire up your browser it will show you the physical web near you, as if by magic.

But, I can still hear some doubters out there.

It won't be able to alert users of any new finds, like those dedicated brand apps with that built-in iBeacon stuff, that our developers worked so hard to plug in!

Well, guess again. Google are in on that too, with their recently released Chrome notifications. And these are very significant for developers and publishers, because engagement tools like location-based notifications simply weren’t available on the mobile web, until now. Browser based notifications can potentially be a game changer, helping to bridge the gap between user and retailer interaction on the go.

It’s fairly clear that beacons and proximity marketing are on the roadmap for Google, and it is one of the targets for this newly introduced browser functionality.

Plus with the adoption of the physical web from Microsoft, Mozilla, and even Apple, it could prove a universal solution if it gets embedded into every browser.

Paul Russell

The Physical Web