Monday, May 10, 2010

The Return of Location-Based eCommerce

One benefit of longetivity in any field is the ability to see cycles. The latest cycle I’ve seen is the return of location-based eCommerce – an interesting idea (just as it was ten years ago).

Consider an article entitled Social Media’s New Mantra: Location, Location, Location in the May 10-16, 2010 edition of Bloomberg Business Week. The article discusses the promise of social media-based, location-based ecommerce. It focuses on several companies that are moving into this space or that already have a presence, ranging from startups to existing companies. The article suggests the example of an iPhone app that checks your friends’ calendars to see if they’re free for the evening, suggests a restaurant that everyone’s wanted to try, notes table availability, and notes where your friends are to make it easy to hook up. Cool…

Now consider this description...

… there’s a specific type of location-based application that’s likely to affect technical communicators – lCommerce (“l” for Location), or mCommerce (“m” for Mobile)… these applications will determine your location and try to sell you things based on that location. For example…

• The florist’s site beeps you when you’re within a mile of the store to remind you that tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

• The car wash beeps you as you drive by on the day after a blizzard to remind you that road salt is bad for your car’s chassis – why not come in right now?

• You’re looking for a Cajun restaurant in an unfamiliar city, find one on an online restaurant list, select it, and have a web site detect your location and continuously provide directions to the restaurant

More ambitious applications could bring people together by detecting their relative locations. For example, a Starbucks’ site might call as you drive past and tell you that your friend Bob is inside and that you’ll get a dollar off a latte if you drop in now. Or that florist’s site might beep to tell you that tomorrow is Mother’s Day but warn you that your mother is in the store right now.

This latter description is from a column that I wrote for Intercom, the magazine of the Society for Technical Communication, in February 2001. I ended that column with this prediction as to how location-based apps might affect technical communicators.

… should see two types of work coming out of the location-based applications. First, there’s likely to be an increase in site development work as local businesses decide to create web sites. Second, given the high potential for irritation…, we may find work creating filters to block calls from the same sites that we created. If all this sounds unlikely, remember that it isn’t too long ago that the idea of technical writers creating web sites was ridiculous. Location-based applications will be an interesting addition to our repertoires.

I’d have to say that I got this prediction wrong. (There may be technical communicators out there who do this type of work, but I’ve never met one.) However, as society becomes increasingly mobile, the idea is still sound and the technology is a lot better than it was in 2001. I have no idea what might come of this technology, but it is worth watching.

No comments: