Every time I visit a particular convenience store, I wince at the repeated announcement of its Web site: “Eichi chi chi pi koron surashu surashu daburyu daburyu daburyu dotto . . . ” It is supposed to be such a cutting-edge play, but it only reminds me of how clumsy the analog world can be, and of how far it is from the digital domain.
Sure, everyone’s hawking Web sites — on the subways, in the back seats of taxis, on grocery store shelves, on TV programs and radio shows. And in conference rooms, everyone’s babbling about “Web presence,” “spiral marketing,” “offline/online synergy.” Gotta get the word out. Gotta add value. Gotta drive those eyeballs online.
Above all, gotta be creative. They know how to do that in San Francisco, where free shopping bags plastered with dot-com solicitations are being offered to brick-and-mortar stores. You think Tokyo’s ad buses are fun? Autowraps.com should impress. This company pays people to transform their private cars into mobile ads. (But what happens if a Yahoo! does a hit-and-run?)
The piece de resistance is the MIT Media Lab graduate who’s developed a 6-inch wireless screen sewn into a leather jacket, powered by a Pentium III processor and a 1-gigabyte micro hard drive. Why? So he could display ads, even videos, on his back. I suppose banner ad tattoos are the next step, and I bet some genius has already started eyeing the painted armpits of Shibuya gyaru.
The obvious problem here is getting the consumer to actually go to the trouble of remembering the address and making the effort to connect. Companies can take the tried and true approach of offering special souvenir goods (“I logged on, and all I got was this lousy keitai strap”), but there are really only two sure ways of getting consumers to a Web site: branding them into submission — or simply spamming them. In a desktop computer culture, there will always be this hindrance. The process requires dutifully noting the Web address, returning to your computer, booting up, listening to the bing-bong of the modem connecting, and then finally typing in the address.
It’s easy to be cynical about this so-called progress. We just have to think ahead, to the day when these boundaries will dissolve, when the transition from analog to digital becomes seamless.
We see a glimmer of an analog-digital synergy in Intacta, a technology that several newspapers have recently begun to use on an experimental basis. Data is encoded into a small block of text which users scan into their computers and then “unlock” with a code reader. Each square centimeter of code can store 100 binary characters. A large block could perhaps compress an image, a Web page, supplementary charts, etc.
Looks swell on paper I guess (as long as you don’t corrupt it with coffee stains), but I have to wonder why these newspapers can’t just print a Web address — despite my longing for a seamless transition. Pardon my thickness. I suppose I should credit the company for trying to allay the cold-sweat nightmares of newspapermen everywhere.
In a similar old-meets-new media link, last week Sony unveiled the eMarker. Remarkably similar to another previously released product called iTag, the eMarker essentially time-stamps songs you hear on the radio — you know, the old FM kind. If you didn’t catch the name of the song, just hit the button on your eMarker, wherever you are (it’s the size of a key chain), then later plug it into your PC and get linked to info on the song and how to buy it.
The details are sketchy at this point, but a Sony rep told CNET News that it will cost slightly less than a Walkman (the iTag is free). Again, I’m sure this is music to the ears of radio-biz people, but will consumers bite? Are they so frustrated by the transitory nature of radio that they’ll splurge for this gizmo and attach it to their accessory belts, next to their PDAs and cell phones?
Speaking of which . . . If you want a taste of a more accessible synergy, dial i-mode. Cell phones that can access the Net already solve half the problem via mobility. But I think DoCoMo’s i-mode goes a little further. It’s stealth technology. The Internet isn’t hyped in boldface in i-mode ads, it’s abbreviated. The Net is tamed on the friendly little i-mode screen. No need to worry about pop-up windows or plug-ins.
Sure, i-mode is lacking depth and richness, but psychologically, it’s a winner. E-mail neophytes have no fear (Hello Kitty will be your guide to telecommunication!) and I suspect that a grandmother in Aichi is going to feel more comfortable making a bank transfer via her keitai than through a PC. Granted, she’ll have to get out her bifocals to see the little screen, but let’s not sweat the details yet.
While PDAs are getting more wired every second, it’ll be interesting to see how far our cell phones take us. They could easily become the multipurpose wallet of Bill Gates’ e-dreams. They’re already enabling consumers to buy Cokes in Finland.
Doomsayers predict that PCs someday will go the way of the dinosaur. So be it. We’ll evolve. No matter how far away the digital domain might seem, we at least know that we’ve already got the keys to it in our pockets.