The Concept of Self and Use of RFID on the iPhone in Entertainment and Social Space

My friend Elissa turned me on to an article by William Deresiewicz titled The End of Solitude that addresses the culture of celebrity and connectivity as symptoms of an impulse for becoming known.  Much of the article offers an overview of the historical concept of Self and what we get out of it.

Something I liked about the article was that it gave context to a technical social mashup idea I’ve been exploring, which is the increased use of near field communication (NFC) to increase one’s visibility in a meaningful way.  More specifically, people will use RFID tag readers in a mobile device like the iPhone to alert the world of their participation in entertainment experiences.

In The End of Solitude, Deresiewicz suggests the culture of celebrity is connected to the video camera, which I connect to broadcast television.  Regretfully, in the year when we could least afford it, reality TV gave rise to pointless distractions like the Balloon Boy and the White House Party Crashers.  But the article also describes the culture of connectivity as a product of the evolving use of computers and mobile communications in society.  As something of an evangelist for new media and a critique of old media, it is somewhat humbling for me to read Deresiewicz’s grouping of celebrity with connectivity in the contemporary self:

“Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known.  It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity.”

The value of different participatory entertainment activities runs the gamut.  A film at your local movie theater requires you to only buy a ticket before the film is sold out and ensure you show up at the scheduled time.  Getting yourself twenty feet from the stage at The Dead on July 4th at Rothbury Music Festival in Michigan requires a significantly greater level of planning.  But the relative interest in the social grid in any given activity is less important than the simple declaration to the post modern self that you “did it.”  People want to shout from the top of their literal or figurative mountains, “I am about to (or have just)  ____ at _____.”

Given that a lot of people love to share their experiences, many are simply limited by the inconvenience.  I’ve given some detail to my sense that there is a big splash still yet to be made by Apple’s touch platform.  And that the Touch lineup of the iPod Touch, the iPhone and the iSlate we will see a revolution in mobile computing.  They will allow us to enjoy the impulses of the modern self which are to take part in connectivity and some element of celebrity.

A topic that hasn’t been explored enough is the effect of including an RFID reader in a breakthrough device like the iPhone.  There is reason to believe that an RFID reader will be incorporated in the near future.   I believe that the inclusion of such hardware will open up opportunities to more quickly identify and disseminate interesting information about the entertainment spaces we’re inhabiting.

To illustrate a point, when I was writing the above paragraph I searched twitter for “Sherlock Holmes” which premiered this past weekend.  The third tweet from the top was from a student I’ve never heard of or met named Nicholas King.  From his Twitter bio, we know Nicholas is a student at Eastern Michigan and studies business.  Quite simply, Nicholas tweeted:

RFID Technology iPhone iSlate Twitter Self Post-Modern Concept

A quick search reveals that Trillium is a cinemas in Grand Blanc, Michigan and Nick was keeping his followers up to date with a text message from his phone.  While a text message accomplishes the goal of updating his thirty or so followers, it falls down for a few reasons:

  1. Part of being fully connected is also having your information quickly sorted and grouped with similar data.  Twitter provides a reverse method for grouping information through its search.twitter.com functionality.  Users are capable of directly grouping their tweets with hashtags.  Both of those methods suffer the potential for data entry error.  I wouldn’t have known about Nick’s experience achievement if he had spelled it “Shelock Holmes.”
  2. Manually updating your followers with the activity you’re participating in requires extended effort.  If you’re walking in the door of an RJD2 show you might have a drink in one hand and a gaggle of pals pulling you forward with the other. It isn’t always possible or at least socially acceptable to whip out your phone and type out an update.

The concept is this.  Sherlock Holmes is being distributed to theaters by Warner Bros Pictures.  In addition to sending out reels of film, Warner Bros would also send a small stand up display that is to be placed near the entrance to the theatre showing the movie.  If Nick carried an iPhone with an RFID reader, he would need only to wave his phone at the entrance and it would automatically pick up his preferences for sharing his location and the movie title he’s seeing via Twitter or Facebook.  More interesting things would be to automatically enter you in a contest for people who attended an Sherlock Holmes on opening weekend.

Another illustration to the benefits of adding an RFID reader to the iPhone in the realm of participatory entertainment is in live music or very large public entertainment events.  For instance, scanning the RFID tag in your section at a football game will identify the mobile capability to an application that could cue everyone to hold up their phones at a given time, display a particular set of images on the screen and turn the entire stadium into a megatron.  At a music festival like Rothbury, it might allow people to collect virtual zoo keys which turn an already amazing Sherwood Forest into something that is digitally enchanted.

The total extent to what could be done with connected devices incorporating RFID tags in combination with the impulse to reinforce personal visibility is impossible to see right now.  What is clear is that culture, technology and the increasing value of participatory entertainment rapidly is converging with all-in-one devices like the iPhone and iSlate.

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Update 12/30/09:  A few additional things: 1. There is a strong sense that RFID will be most valuable for payment and wireless financial transactions.  The basis of my interest in RFID has been from seeing the NFC-enabled registers at places like McDonalds and Regal Cinemas.   When I first started seeing them, I would ask how often they took payment using the NFC at POS and I’d get blank stares from the employees.  MasterCard’s PayPass and American Express’s ExpressPay have been around for a while but have mostly only survived market tests as far as I can tell.

To look at how NFC/RFID payments and entertainment overlap, I love what it could do to damage the secondary ticket market.  I’ve long felt that secondary ticketing and scalping does more harm than good on the average would-be live entertainment participant.  Locking tickets to phones is a great way to help track and possibly reduce scalping while still allowing some flexibility in transferability.

There are some articles about how an RFID, NFC enabled phone are useful outside of entertainment which are worth linking to.  Here’s one that simply gooses the idea.  Here’s a second article that talks explicitly in terms of marketing opportunities.

When Business and Personal Life Collides – New Facebook Privacy Settings and the Status of Tiger Woods' Endorsement Contracts

Exactly what counts as private personal details has been a major theme underlying discussion in new media and old media in the past few weeks.  Here are two interesting examples of how business and people’s personal details are colliding right now.

New Media: Facebook’s Privacy Settings Updates

Facebook has made major changes to how it handles privacy settings for users.  Most likely you are familiar with the outcry and acceptance around Facebook’s push to make your updates more transparent.

Facebook was conceived around the idea of sharing detailed content like photos and notes only with your social net, which was supposed to represent your core group of friends in the meatspace.  Twitter’s growth has been in addressing the extreme opposite: sharing 140 characters worth of insight with the entire world instantly.

Facebook relies on deep engagement with its users in order to get its advertisements clicked on.  Facebook was forced to change its strategy because it was losing opportunities for interaction with its users to Twitter.  In addition, Facebook is missing out on buzz because Facebook it is seen as lacking the real time relevance of Twitter.

The update to Facebook’s Privacy Settings is a tactic in the company’s strategy to get more Facebook users to share their updates with the public or at least make it obvious that users are welcome to do so.

The problem is that average internet users are not capable of building and utilizing a set of sophisticated privacy settings.  The result is that many are unwittingly sharing what they believe is private information.  Rafe Needleman makes a great point that the initial user interface designed to guide Facebook users does more to guide them to exposing their information rather than creating the controls they want.

If these ideas are to be accepted, it suggests that Facebook is knowingly creating conditions where the details of user’s personal lives are made public because it will lead the company towards greater market share and profits.

Old Media: Tiger Woods Endorsement Contracts

Let it be known that I am not a huge fan of old media.  To be clear, this includes broadcast and time shifted television advertisements, magazine advertising and  just about any electronic sign found in sports arenas like the Rose Garden. (Go Blazers.)  My reasoning is that old media too often lacks any real context and is more about blanketing the masses with the critical six exposures rather than seeking to engage individual interests.

Celebrity endorsements or testimonials are a classic tool of old media and I couldn’t help but notice the full page advertisement for Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer, which features their “official partner” Tiger Woods.

Woods is currently deep in allegations of adultery, and after being dropped from Accenture this past Sunday the Tag Heuer made the statement that Woods’ personal life is “not our business.”

Tiger Woods Tag Heuer Celebrity Endorsement So I had a closer look at this big magazine advertisement and the text reads: “I first swung a golf club when I was nine months old…Since 1996, my Foundation has inspired more than 10 million youth…Together with TAG Heuer, I’m helping young people believe in themselves.”

My question to Tag Heuer is if you’re going to have a representative for your brand make claims about his ability to connect with and inspire children, is your representative’s personal life really not your business?  It is one thing if you are going to depict your representative as a an accomplished athlete and another if he is going to be talking about his influence on kids.

Closing

I selected these to examples because I was interested in them.  Facebook is social media, which I enjoy and Woods’ sex scandal has become interesting because of the business aspect and the general extent of what he’s described as “transgressions.”

But the greater comment I’m after is that it is easy to say that Facebook or major media has taken away people’s right to privacy.  Or to believe that there is complete compromise in participating in social networking or great accomplishment that puts you in the public spotlight.

However, who controls your personal information and the judgement of exactly what is a constitutes “personal life” is a moving target.  New technologies and dollars and cents will affect what you get to keep private as much as evolving social mores.

Facebook User Interface Revision and Revolt

One of my guides for creating a slick FB profile recently made PC World’s list of 10 tips for Facebook Power Users (Tip #5).  That coverage sort of endorsed me as a thought leader in tweaking Facebook.  The user interface and design of Facebook is only of interest to me because I enjoy the service so much and like sharing my experience with it.

As you might guess I’ve been following the redesign of Facebook pretty closely. My pal Bryan just posted a link to another great PC World article on Facebook “caving” to user concerns in the redesign. The article contains a good summary but also some important links worth checking out:

  • Facebook’s Director of Product, Chris Cox official reaction (blog entry)
  • Techcrunch shames Facebook for caving to users.
  • The idea that while 2 million users complained about the redesign, yet that is only 1% of the userbase is highlighted here.

The main changes they will be making in the near term to satisfy complaints are: Continue reading Facebook User Interface Revision and Revolt

A Guide to Hacking Your Facebook Profile Photo

Hacking Your Facebook Profile Photo
Coolwhip hair dude.

One of the most important parts of a person’s Facebook presence is their profile photo. This is displayed in the top left corner of a page. The photo can be a newly uploaded image or it may be drawn from any of your online albums.

Typically, a profile photo shows someone’s face, and appears in front of the light blue-grey line that connects from the left side of the profile to the left-most tab. View an example of a typical profile page with a normal photo.

Unlike Myspace, Facebook’s uses a common color and layout for every profile. This makes the site look better overall, but also limits your ability to affect the look of your profile. You can display Facebook applications on the left sidebar, and have them in tabs, but any changes to how the page’s style or how it is displayed overall are limited.

concert posters rock show ipad iphone

Download Rock Show, the Concert Posters app for the iPhone and iPad

Hacking the Facebook Profile Photo

There isn’t a legal way to ‘hack’ Facebook, but there is a method to changing your profile photo to make your profile look subtly different and cooler. It isn’t obvious, but the placement of a profile photo allows you to lightly innovate on Facebook’s sacred profile layout. Continue reading A Guide to Hacking Your Facebook Profile Photo

Nationalization or Expropriation? Independent Facebook Application Developers Continue to Face Uncertainty

There is some interesting discussion going on in the Facebook Developer’s forum. The gist is that Facebook has made changes that are causing some developers to feel disenfranchised. A few developers are upset enough that they are speaking of creating a union of independent Facebook application developers.

What might the goals of a union of Facebook application developers be? It would help to look at what has stirred the pot recently. About two weeks ago someone posted a complaint that Facebook had unfairly bent the rules to give CBS’s Sports NCAA bracket application advantages for faster viral spread across the Facebook user base. Adding insult to injury, the thread also pointed out that the CBS Sports NCAA bracket application had a poor user rating.

Two days ago another developer posted a thread titled, “Facebook has stolen my idea!” which describes the recently added “Do you know these people?” page on Facebook. The developer suggests he feels “cheated” because the new Facebook page duplicates his own application’s functionality. The developer’s application was forced to comply with platform development rules that required an obstructive approval process in order work correctly.

Facebook’s “Do you know these people?” page circumvents this approval process because it is not subject to the rules independent application developers must follow. Facebook made a better version of the application a part of the Facebook experience by bending the rules that crippled the original developer’s work. Continue reading Nationalization or Expropriation? Independent Facebook Application Developers Continue to Face Uncertainty

My First Database Refactoring

I spent a good portion of the day today refactoring the database used to power the Dave Matthews Band application I’ve been writing for Facebook.

I’ve been interested in writing for Facebook for some time because I believe that companies need to be expanding their online presence into applications built for major social networking platforms. It is easy to say that people should pay attention to things like OpenSocial or Facebook’s API, there have been plenty of articles about it. But nothing can convince you like building and running one yourself.

facebook application traffic statistics

My application began with only allowing users to choose a photo for their profile. Then I added the ability to select prior Dave Matthews Band shows. The problem came when people said they wanted to show their tour history further back than 2007.

I’ve been sourcing my data from the DMB Almanac, a site that I promote fairly heavily through the Weekly Davespeak’s front page and in the forums. I have a feeling I send them a good portion of traffic. Continue reading My First Database Refactoring