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SAScon 2016 e1466421131586

SAScon 2016 – are we virtually there yet?

SAScon 2016 e1466421131586

SAScon 2016 – are we virtually there yet?

This year’s SAScon event took place in Manchester last week, and being an annual attendee of it really makes you realise that the tech world is developing at an exciting and perhaps frightening pace. The talk this year had certainly moved on from mobile internet (any mentions of which were pretty much greeted with a pitying scoff) and was all about what Robert Scoble from Rackspace described in his keynote speech on Thursday as “the fourth interface”.

Scoble referred to this interface as ‘spatial’, and described it as the latest in a chain of set-ups that began with text-based operating systems like MS-DOS, moved on to mouse-and-cursor alternatives like Windows and iOS, then developed into touch-operated platforms like the ones most of us now have on our phones. The next move appears to be one where we will be fully immersed in the internet and computer-generated graphics, which Scoble and other speakers seem to agree will be commonplace by about 2025.

Scoble’s presentation was a fascinating peek into the future, showing boxes magically appearing in front of users, allowing them to choose options as they walked around a room. Realistic looking jellyfish billowed across the room too, seemingly showing a utopian world where the only limit is the imagination.

But of course, the human imagination can be a dangerous thing, and there seemed to be a rough 50-50 divide among SAScon attendees between those who were excited and optimistic about the future of technology, its interconnectedness and the so-called ‘Internet of Things’, and those who found the whole thing a little more unsettling.

In a high-energy Friday morning keynote speech, Marty Weintraub of aimClear panned British Airways for their unimaginative use of personalised advertising, commenting on a situation in which he had gone to look for a flight on BA’s website, then visited Facebook shortly after and seen an advert for the airline simply stating ‘Great flights available’. I had to agree that this is fairly useless, and is only showing him what he has already seen and therefore wouldn’t be interested in looking at again. BA, he said, should be recording the details of what flight he searched for, at what time and in what class, and then hit him with tailored ads reflecting this.

Weintraub even suggested that the adverts should be screaming “Hey, Marty!” at him. He may have meant this metaphorically, but another section of Friday’s seminars suggested that literally calling people out by their name to advertise to them may be on its way.

In possibly the most unsettling part of the whole conference, Abdul Alim was pitching for his company, OfferMoments, to become part of MEC’s Start-Up Hub and showed us a short clip of a young lady in a Manchester Arndale shopping centre who suddenly notices a billboard emblazoned with her own face, name and something she might want to buy. The billboard had read this information from her mobile phone and put it out there for her and droves of other shoppers to see.

As you can see, the girl in the clip seems excited and delighted by this technology, and a show of hands after the clip suggested that a considerable number of people in the room found this ‘cool’. A lot also thought it was ‘creepy’, and herein lies the problem with this form of advertising. After all, marketing experts have long said that advertising works by tapping into our subconscious mind. If advertising becomes this overt, and this intrusive, aren’t we going to become increasingly aware that we’re being sold to and reject it?

In the quest to turn virtual reality into actual reality and make the Internet of Things shape the products we buy and the ways we behave, marketers need to be careful not to scare people off. Nevertheless, there does appear to be a significant number of people – perhaps those who find the world of reality TV and the idea of being famous for no reason appealing – who seem to relish the idea of appearing on a screen next to a product, so we shouldn’t write it off. Surely though, in the interests of privacy if nothing else, this should be an opt-in offering, which may take away much of the surprise element that would make it effective.

John Murray
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