Month: April 2013

Can PacMan teach Maths?

Here’s the podcast of a rather intriguing panel discussion I participated in at the Mobile Fringe Festival earlier this year in Barcelona. Moderated by the indomitable Russell Buckley (the big daddy of mobile marketing), I was joined by Vincent Hoogsteder (Founder & CEO, Distimo) and Alina Vandenberghe (Head of Mobile and Gaming, Pearson) discussing how elements of games and, indeed, mobile technology can aid educational demands – not only for the iPad-clad haute vollee of the first world but also in regions where traditional schooling is a lot more challenging.

I wrote about the topic previously and it is one of the areas I take an increasing amount of interest in. Have a listen, let me know what you think.

I tried to paste a fancy Soundcloud widget but this didn’t work out, so go listen to it here.

Coming up: a week in the hipster capital

Not next week but the week after, the world (well, a certain horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing, Google-Glass-adoring, game-controller-wielding, funky-t-shirts-wearing subset thereof) will come to the self-proclaimed world capital of hipsterdom that is Berlin to talk digital. And I will go, too.

There are tons of events to choose from, mainly everything around the German Gaming Days (“Deutsche Games-Tage”) with a couple of conferences (Quo Vadis, a.maze) some more events (the Gamefest at the German Video Game Museum should be cool) and the German Gaming Award (“Lara-Award“).

Then, of course, there is Next Berlin, one of the bigger events for new, high-tech, start-uppy things. It is packed with big names, cool start-ups, competitions and parties. If you are in this space (and you reading this blog suggests you are) and are around, come by.

Here’s a Challenge: Marry Mobile & Local…

So, what if you could effectively combine mobile and local? As in asking someone if there is a free washing machine in the launderette down the road (before you haul your laundry down there), if Lady Gaga is on stage already (or if it is still that pesky opener), that sort of thing. Sounds cool? Yeah. Have we heard about this before? Hell yeah. Do you know of anyone who has solved this successfully? Erm…

The funny thing is we all know how important it is. We all use mobile local services all the time: the use of maps and navigation (for one thing) have changed tremendously by the introduction of GPS into mobile phones. There is a plethora of services we all use that use it. However, they barely seem to scratch the surface as yet.

MoboQ to the Rescue?

But, alas, help is on hand. There actually IS a service that is doing just that: it WILL tell you about that washing machine, about free parking slots, about almost everything you want to know. And they have, well, 100,000 users so far. So not Twitter but, alas not Color either (they allegedly had 400,000 users before they shut down). But, hey, they didn’t raise 41m bucks for nothing either… And, well, that means that there might just not be someone in just my neighbourhood just now, huh?

It gets better (no, worse) though: Because, if you ask just who that mythical company is, the answer is not the former employee # 21 from Google an unknown Facebook rockstar engineer or, sorry, a Stanford nearly-grad, either? No. The service is called MoboQ and is operated by Sina Weibo, the “small” Chinese provider with some 400m users on this Twitter-esque service.

(And, no I did not pick this up myself. Hal Hodson wrote about it in the New Scientist. Really cool magazine, you should subscribe to it! [and, no, I don’t earn a commission if you do])

Unicorns are Hard to Breed

Sooooooo: 100,000 users out of 400m and the service has been operating for a year now. That’s a conversion rate of, what, 0.025%. Not really a landslide victory then, huh? And that is the challenge of this unicorn of all mobile services: they are really hard to breed (scil. scale).

Why is that, you say? Well, because they are, well, local. That is to say, you need to convince a fair few people in your area to use it. And unless you have a really successful SXSW launch (the stuff of legends, I know), this might not be that easy to do. Mobile & local each work on the combination of total usage plus really smart algorithms. This is why I am blogging about mobile stuff: huge scale there. This is why Yelp, FourSquare, you name it thrive: huge scale there. But the moment you need real-time response, you need an insane amount of usage to be able to make sensible use of algorithms. I would posit not even Facebook can do this (oh, wait, they try: there is this thing called Nearby they do. Heard of it? No, me neither…)

Help at Hand?

The New Scientist offers a couple of soundbites from execs involved in the various programmes and all sound a little stale, to be honest: “people will use it once they become aware of it” said someone from USC. Really? Well, I don’t know.

Now, I agree that this is somewhat of the holy grail of combining two hugely powerful concepts but the big spanner in the wheels is as per the above: tough to algorithmitise (is that a word?) and possibly slowed down by privacy concerns and queries as to the value extraction formulae applied: what is in it for me if I am over-sharing local information about my very own locale; I know my own environment, no need for me to reciprocate then… Because, you see, 95%+ people do not actually race around the world that much other than on vacation. And isn’t the first thing they look for when they finally are on vacation either a drink or bliss uninterupted by digital hyper-connectedness? Just sayin’…

So I continue to wait for that killer combo app/service a little longer then, I guess. Sigh…

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