Augmented reality—Search moves from text to objects

Hold onto your hats!

I just read a Trendwatching report  about the not-too-distant future when Search transcends Google and spreads to everyday objects.

Instead of typing into a text search box to get information you want—just point your phone or pad at an object or scene and all kinds of information pops up. It’s called augmented reality, and it’s going to change everything. In part, because it’s so much more entertaining than text search. Some of this has already started with QR codes (also not so entertaining), but these new apps may quickly make QR codes obsolete.

Some nonprofits are already experimenting with this new technology, and it sounds like they’re using good sense about keeping their use of it audience-centric and very strategic. That’s great. It’s always easy to get swept away by the latest, coolest apps. But in this case, I don’t think it’s too early for nonprofits to start thinking about how this technological shift dovetails with their strategic communications plans.

Here’s a consumer example. You point your phone at a watch in the window of a jewelry store and everything you could want to know about the watch immediately appears on your phone—including a photo of the watch that you can superimpose over your own wrist to see how it would look. You can also do price comparisons and order it right over your phone.

Or, maybe you want to give your spouse a special valentines day gift. When a pad is pointed at the flowers you sent—up pops a video of your romantic message. The physical and virtual worlds are melding, and that’s pretty exciting—not only for those who market consumer products, but those who market social causes.

First, visit these two sites to see what’s already available out there—two mind-blowing FREE apps: blippar and aurasma lite. Consider downloading them to get familiar with how they work.

On the blippar site, check out what Nestle’s done with Shreddies—Knitting Nanas pearls of wisdom from a cereal box. Or how Nike is providing exclusive video from their posters. Be sure to watch the demo on the home page, too. For Aurasma, watch both the Daily Mirror and the 3-D toy examples.

Now, settle back and let your mind wander…hmmm. How could nonprofits use these new apps? Actually, I can’t STOP thinking of the ways.

  • Environmental organizations can key open space protection video/info to geographic spots they’re trying to protect, or spaces that are already protected and very popular—where people enjoying open space can learn about how your nonprofit is protecting other places that are threatened.
  • Arts organizations can go wild. Opera companies can spur traffic to upcoming offerings by attaching video snippets and other info to images in their programs, or even tickets. Museums now have a whole new, exciting, and visual way of conveying didactics–not just type on the wall. Performance companies can easily display their offerings when someone simply points a phone at their building.
  • When someone points a phone or pad at a new housing or retail development, community development organizations can convey the history and  importance of that project, and of course—make clear their role.

Think of the million ways schools, clinics, youth development organizations, foundations, social service agencies, and every other nonprofit can make use of existing information through these dynamic new apps. Maybe there will come a time when parents just have to hold their phone up to an early childhood facility or a local school to get quality rating information. Or when people can see an impact video about your organization simply by pointing their pad at your building, booth, or logo! Here’s one example of a simple brochure-based aurasma campaign by Save the Children.

And, of course, fundraisers will figure out ways to take all this virtual information sharing straight through to the GIVE NOW button.

Are you excited yet? This is still emerging technology, but things move very fast. The way to start thinking about any shiny new technology is to step back from your excitement a little bit, and carefully consider if and how it might support your strategic communications goals. If you think it has a role to play, experiment with it and track results.

I’d love to hear your ideas about how blippar and aurasma could be used by nonprofits, in the comments below.

Creative Commons photo credit: turkletom

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