Sunday 7 February 2010

Is the Poken mightier than the pen?

Social networks may have made the online world a much more connected experience – allowing us to connect with someone we know (or would like to know) or become a fan of a brand that we want to hear more from - but what about the real world. 

How does someone connect with a brand in store, or connect with each other.

Okay, I know it’s a stupid question - we’ve been doing this “offline” for millennia – we talk, we exchange details.  However this typically involves a pen and something the Chinese invented over 2000 years ago – some paper.  If we do this a lot then the paper may be pre-printed in the form of a business card.

Meet someone you like and want to chat again, you’ll need to note down their contact details (or swap business cards).  Like the retailer and want to hear more from them, you’ll need to fill in an application form.

But that could be all changing.

New technologies are allowing people to exchange details when they meet, seamlessly between devices such as a mobile phone.  There is still a requirement to make that first move and start the conversation, technology hasn’t managed to help with that yet unless of course you count the opening line “Do you Poken?" as both an ice breaker and a request to connect.

You google, you text, you chat, do you poken?

The Poken is a cute little device that comes in various form factors such as a key ring and which allows you to connect with another person simply by tapping your Pokens together.


When you then plug the Poken into your PC and go online you’re able to see all the people you connected with in a timeline and crucially with all their contact details, social networks etc. that they have chosen to share.


A different route is via the mobile with one of the most popular applications being, as you would expect, on the iPhone.

Called BUMP from Bump Technologies this application allows you to exchange details by simply bumping two iPhones together. 

Using some clever latitudinal thinking, the phones themselves don’t actually exchange anything and instead the solution recognises the unique properties of the bump itself from each phone, matching these up centrally on their servers and then sharing details where a match is found.

It’s not just contact details which can be exchanged but also content like photos - “bumping” them from phone to phone.

Whilst these technologies have been around for a little while and the Poken made a few headlines and blogs at the SXSW about a year ago, they’ve yet to really mature and gain mass penetration and usage.

However I think they have so much more to give.

As facebook matured from being solely about connecting people to also connecting with brands, groups and causes, these technologies could enable the same thing in the physical world.

  • Walk into a store and tap/bump to get immediate offers to your mobile
  • See an item you like… tap to get it added to your wish list
  • Want to join the loyalty programme, tap at POS

These solutions essentially allow you to be be you – not having to carry multiple cards or fill in multiple forms but instead, simply to tap a device to indicate your identity.

There are many arguments that these solution do nothing more than what could be achieved with Bluetooth today or NFC as it begins to roll out across mobiles. 

However that’s not the point – Poken for example is essentially nothing more than a proprietary RFID solution - it’s not about the technology, it’s about a simple, branded solution which people understand and feel in control of.

I think these types of solutions which allow identity to be easily captured in the physical world, whether it’s between people, brands or products will bring the same kind of advantages that we get in the online world – allowing interactions and relationships to be tracked and measured.

For marketers the online interaction has become an important measure – in some ways more important than the transaction - with the interaction being almost a “precognition” of the transaction itself.

Can technology like BUMP or Poken enable the same thing in the physical world?  It’s going to be fun finding out.