First published: April 2006 | Show us one experienced, switched-on consumer in a mature consumer society who does NOT google once a day. Or even once an hour. One consumer who has NOT researched the cheapest available fare, price, charge before buying a big ticket item. Who has NOT invested some time reading reviews, recommendations and suggestions from experts and fellow consumers on anything from hotels in Paris and designer vacuum cleaners to which specific seat to request on flight SQ220 from Sydney to Singapore. One who hasn't relished the feeling of being better informed about everything from 18th century gardening to alternative medicine to the real reasons for high oil prices, than his/her peers or, even better, his/her superiors.
All thanks to the insanely expansive and detailed web of information that continues to be spun, offering transparency of prices, of reviews, of opinions, and of detail. Yes, you’ve heard this before. But just for a moment, marvel at how incredibly addicted consumers have become to getting instant access to any kind of useful and relevant information. In fact, consumers are experiencing nothing short of an all-encompassing INFOLUST:
"Experienced consumers are lusting after detailed information on where to get the best of the best, the cheapest of the cheapest, the first of the first, the healthiest of the healthiest, the coolest of the coolest, or on how to become the smartest of the smartest. Instant information gratification is upon us.
So forget information overload: this desire for relevant information is insatiable, and will soon move from the online world to the ‘real’ world to achieve true ubiquity. Get ready for a click-and-know, point-and-know, text-and-know, hear-and-know, smell-and-know, touch-and-know and snap-and-know world."
The driving force behind INFOLUST is a basic human need. Which goes for most consumer trends. In this case: the need for power and empowerment, or at least the illusion thereof. Information is power. So is knowledge. And being in the know. And now that INFOLUST can be satisfied instantly, and millions of consumers have had a taste of the new, transparent world of information distribution, expectations about access to information have been raised. In fact, traditional power centers are exposed for what they really are: entities that survived because of an unequal distribution of information, not because of their brilliance or skill or because they did something unique with this possession.
We’ve discussed some of the ramifications of this new information distribution in our HYGIENIA trend: for brands, it means doing business in a world in which the minimum performance standards are not only known to all, they're also relentlessly being pushed forward by consumers and competitors.
So if that's the setting, let’s look at the most important INFOLUST developments:
1. Even more transparency in the online world
2. Search and answers go mobile
3. Real world objects join the game
We're not going to try to bring you an all-encompassing overview of all the insanely detailed information services available on the web and in the blogosphere these days. Instead, let’s look at some telling examples of how consumers are obsessed with getting relevant information, and how tuned-in companies are satisfying this INFOLUST.
First of all: micro publishing. Remember how it would ‘never take off’? How consumers supposedly wouldn't be interested in daily or even hourly publications on niche topics like, oh, electronic gadgets or cool travel destinations? As always, the ignorance and arrogance of business execs at yesteryear corporations knew no boundaries. These days, a gadget blog like Gizmodo welcomes more than 350,000 visitors. Per day. In an INFOLUST world, it's only natural that tech-minded consumers want to know about the latest Ming Motorola or Samsung SPH-B5200 phones the moment a prototype pops up in Seoul.
Or what about mash-ups. Google Maps has unleashed a whole new layer of detailed INFOLUST services, from Gawker Stalker to Proper Pint. And that’s just celebs in Manhattan and bars in Dublin. More map-mashed INFOLUST goodness can be found at sites like googlemapsmania.blogspot.com.
INFOLUST and price transparency is another marriage made in heaven: the Internet Price is to consumers what the China Price is to manufacturers.
Pricenoia | Now, the number of price comparison engines is endless: may we suffice by highlighting just one of them: Pricenoia. (Pricenoia: "A disorder characterized by the systematic verification of international sites when ordering from Amazon".) More than 70,000 Amazon customers a month use the engine to find the lowest price for any item on ALL Amazon sites (Canada, US, UK, Germany, Japan, and France). As Pricenoia’s owner puts it: "Pricenoia is especially useful for those living in Europe, or in countries that don't have their own Amazon store. For Europeans it can be far more interesting to buy at Amazon.com for example than at the .fr, .uk or .de stores, even factoring in shipment costs. An average saving for non-American users can be up to 20% on new products, but taking individual items you can find really amazing results. Usually on books the .com is the best option for most countries. On music, for Americans buying from .ca can be cheaper than buying from .com.”
So never underestimate consumers’ burning need to know more, if they actually dig a topic, or want to save a dime. Which brings us to one of the choicest industries to spot INFOLUST examples: the business of travel. Check out the following signs of the times:
Tripadvisor | For scoring the best of the best in hotel rooms, consumers have been flocking to Tripadvisor for years. These days, the site boasts more than 4 million reviews and opinions from travelers, covering 200,000+ hotels and 92,000+ restaurants in 23,000+ cities, and attracting nearly 19 million unique monthly visitors worldwide. That’s not all, though: Tripadvisor now encourages its reviewers to add pics to their reviews as well. More than 196,000 traveler photos covering 19,000 hotels have already been added. And yes, that includes all-telling pics like the ones below.
Need we say more on how transparency can quickly become TRANSPARENCY TYRANNY for those who don’t perform in an INFOLUST dominated world? Next, no doubt, user-generated videos (a Tripadvisor and YouTube partnership would be cool).
Furthermore, thanks to the ever-proliferating ONLINE OXYGEN trend, real-time reviewing and reporting are becoming a reality. Using cell phones with online access, hotel guests can actually post reviews while standing in check-out line, instead of having to wait to post their findings until they get home (if they ever get around to doing so).
And with more than one billion people now online, the number of reviews won’t exactly slow down. In fact, finding multiple postings per day for a specific hotel on Tripadvisor isn't unusual. All this while the real ONLINE OXYGEN generation (Generation Digital, Generation Always On) is only just now starting to travel. Used to having their say, used to being the judge, willing to share their verdicts, they may deluge the Tripadvisors of this world with (audio-visual) findings a few years from now.
SeatGuru | The list goes on: SeatGuru.com, obsessed with helping its 600,000 monthly users identify superior and substandard seats, offers detailed seat map graphics, in-depth remarks and observations, a color-coded system and icons to denote amenities such as laptop power and audio/video entertainment. This blend of features conveys highly specific seat information such as extra legroom, limited recline, decreased width and obstructed movie screen viewing. SeatGuru covers 29 airlines and a variety of airlines. Not surprisingly, this model also depends on ongoing user feedback: 15,000 users have sent in their findings so far.
McDonalds | No B2C industry is immune to INFOLUST: consumers want to know, and they want to know now, with as many details as they please. McDonald's just launched mcdonaldsmenu.info to enable consumers to make a more informed decision on the healthiness of a McD meal. A meal calculator allows customers to tally how much (or how little) they should be consuming, based on their age, size, gender, etc. What’s your industry’s INFOLUST example par excellence?
Let’s move on, literally. For years now, we’ve been hearing about cyberspace moving from our desks and kitchen tables to our mobile phones, creating a truly ONLINE OXYGENATED world, in which INFOLUST will flourish. We’re not quite there yet, but the pieces are definitely falling into place: according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) and Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), there are now 1.9 billion+ mobile phones in use worldwide, more than the number of TVs and PCs combined. What’s more, by the end of 2008, more than 600 million mobile phone users worldwide will have mobile internet access. No wonder INFOLUST players are gearing up for a mobile, 24/7 walhalla. An overview:
Google Mobile | Will INFOLUST addicts google something once a MINUTE five years from now? If it's up to Google Mobile Search, which only searches sites formatted for mobile devices, and Google Local for Mobile, which integrates local search with maps, the answer is yes. To bring INFOLUST-on-the-go to 2 billion mobile phone users, the company is forging partnerships left, right and center:
Vodafone will integrate Google's search capability into its Vodafone live! service. From the press release: "As people become more mobile, it's increasingly important that we can provide them with access to information when on-the-go. Google understands that mobile phone users are looking for more than a desktop replacement - they want directly relevant content, quickly.”
Sony Ericsson has made Google the standard search engine for all new Sony Ericsson internet-capable phones. Users will be able to directly activate Google Web Search from any page they're viewing, without the need to launch a new web page to start a search.
Handset manufacturers Motorola and BenQ Mobile are also in bed with Google, with BenQ announcing a deal last month to sell phones with preinstalled Google tools for local information searches.
Needless to say, Yahoo Search on Mobile, Yahoo Mobile Web, AOL Mobile Search, AOL Mobile Portal, AOL MapQuest Mobile Service, Technorati Mobile, 4INFO, and many other players are also actively eyeing a piece of the 2 billion phone crazy consumers pie.
Asia | The real INFOLUST-to-go excitement can be found in Asia: from China to South Korea, the mobile internet is taking off. Baidu.com, China's largest search engine, and Nokia recently announced a collaboration to further improve mobile search in Chinese-speaking markets, including mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
And while only 12% of US mobile phone users currently go online through their phones, a whopping 76% of users in Japan do so. Which has spawned, amongst others, an even more potent form of price comparison than discussed in part I: price comparison on the go, if not on the spot.
More mobile | Not surprising then, that aforementioned PriceNoia is going mobile, too: “Pricenoia Mobile is a java application that can be installed on your phone and allows you to use Pricenoia's price comparison anywhere. Enter a book's ISBN and get book info, reviews, price comparison and the price evolution graph on your mobile. You can now check Amazon prices at your local bookstore when looking at a particular book.” Over the last two months, about 1,000 people have downloaded the mobile application.
In fact, count on virtually all services highlighted in part I to eventually start offering a mobile version. Case in point: Mobile SeatGuru, a version of SeatGuru that's optimized for handheld devices. Meaning consumers have all necessary info at their fingertips to switch seats at check-in, or to find out which in-flight services will be available on their flight while there’s still time to stack up on mags and DVDs.
While they're online, consumers rely on Google to bring them instant answers. But even though, as shown above, the Googles and Yahoos are working hard to enable consumers to get answers on the go, one zone of unresponsiveness remains: real world objects.
This is where consumers’ 24/7 curiosity and heightened expectations clash with the harsh reality of dumb buildings, products, shop windows, billboards and so on. Most of these objects are incapable of communicating the how, who, when, why and what that INFOLUST consumers have come to rely on in an online world.
No wonder that a slew of innovative ‘ask and know’ ventures are jumping into this virgin INFOLUST market with both feet. Inspired by two-dimensional barcodes, they’re developing versatile ‘shotcodes’, ‘SMS codes’, ‘QR codes’ and ‘UPCODES’. These codes are designed to be attached, stuck, glued, or printed on objects, making those products smarter, adding relevant information or linking the viewer directly to a pertinent web page. Needless to say, this enables an additional INFOLUST eco-system that benefits curious minds as they roam the real world. A selection of services to illustrate what’s possible today, and to hopefully get your creative INFOLUST juices flowing:
Few things unleash greater INFOLUST in consumers than hunting for a new home. With the online world offering everything you’d ever want to know (check out Street Easy for real estate in New York), the gap between the online and real world experience couldn’t be bigger. Potential buyers roaming prospective neighborhoods 'offline', can count themselves lucky if they can even find a direct phone number for a property for sale. Any ‘interaction’ with the house or apartment of one’s dreams (finding out how many rooms it has or what the asking price is), is non-existent.
That is, unless the property has been put on the market by a real estate agent using SMS Een Huis in The Netherlands, Real Estate Depot in Australia, or Text Wow in the UK. These services provide potential buyers with instant text information on their cell phones, based on unique SMS codes displayed on physical 'for rent' and 'for sale' signs. Asking price, floor plan, square footage and more, all delivered to the cell phone of a prospective client who just happened to be walking by.
Now, text/SMS codes are sweet, but things get serious when codes consist of more than just four digits. Starting with the most ubiquitous (and versatile) code of all: the barcode.
Originally, barcodes stored data in the widths and spacings of printed parallel lines, but today they also come in patterns of dots, concentric circles, and are even hidden in other images. While they were designed for inventory tracking and providing product info to retailers, barcodes are increasingly becoming consumer-centric (and even consumer-generated!) to accommodate INFOLUSTY consumers keen on interacting with their physical surroundings.
Amazon ScanSearch | Case in point: 27% of Japanese consumers currently own a cell phone equipped with a barcode reader (source: eMarketer). Which allows them to compare prices on the go: since November 2004, Amazon ScanSearch has enabled Japanese real-world shoppers to scan barcodes of products they like, then find similar products on Amazon.co.jp, check the price, and if lower, buy straight from Amazon via their phone.
ScanBuy | A similar service, ScanZoom, is being rolled out in the US by ScanBuy. After shoppers snap a picture of a product’s bar code, they get direct access to PriceGrabber's or Amazon's information for that product, from product descriptions and customer ratings to e-tailer prices.
And here too, online buying on the spot is possible. Next, according to ScanZoom, could be a service that would tell users which other real-world stores within one or two miles offer the same product at a lower price.
But as always, more change is in the air. Check out the following ‘new’ codes, developed with INFOLUST and consumers in mind:
QRcode | While a barcode contains data in one direction only, QRcodes contain information in both vertical and horizontal directions, meaning they can hold a considerably greater amount of information. All the rage in Japan, 30 million Japanese already have special QR-code reading software installed on their cameraphones. With a single snapshot, the QR square’s information is decoded, directing the phone's web browser to further details on a product: from a dedicated page to e-coupons to games to promotional videos.
PaperClick Codes | Neom’s PaperClick service can read alphanumeric or numeric characters, allowing for any grouping of letters or numbers to be linked to a web page. This includes words, phrases, brand names, and slogans, as well as barcode activation, or custom PaperClick Codes for print on any surface. Supporting over 170 devices from 18 mobile device manufacturers, Paperclick encourages brands to help consumers do any of the following: (trendwatching.com loves it when other people work out the opportunities for us):
Compare prices in a retail store
Buy the next book in the series from your couch
Get an in-store coupon
Watch a movie trailer
Buy tickets from a movie poster or newspaper
Watch a how-to video on an instructional manual
Find concert dates from your own CD collection
Sample a song from the CD cover
Find a lower price
Get directions and a coupon from a poster at a bus stop
Watch a virtual tour and obtain pricing from a real estate sign (!)
Acquire real time pricing on airfare from your home city in a magazine ad
Acquire a vehicle history report from a license plate
Look up product ingredients/recipes while food shopping
Acquire your medical history from a prescription bottle
Acquire your doctor recommendation from a prescription bottle
Enter a contest without mailing anything or logging-on from your home PC
Text-to-win without entering a long stream of numbers
Purchase items from a mail-order magazine directly from the magazine
Acquire a patient’s medical history from a single barcode
Click on a code to instantly report a problem
ShotCodes | OP3’s ShotCode service has managed to take an original shot at the INFOLUST market with a visual approach that will appeal to consumers because, well, visuals always appeal to consumers. In their own words: "Today, businesses cannot get people to use their mobile phones to browse the internet. This is because typing in domain names on a phone is a time-consuming and frustrating process. In come ShotCodes: offline web links. When captured by a mobile camera, ShotCodes instantly and effortlessly take users to any desired location on the internet, on their phones. ShotCodes are easy to make and can be tied to any web address." For a demo, see: www.shotcode.com/data/movieformat.
mCode | And yet another one! In the US, Nextcode is pushing its mCode, a QR-like code that can be molded into any shape, including company logos. The codes connect to consumer-centric info, especially product info. Think codes on boarding passes linking to flight status, or codes on movie posters linking to a downloadable movie trailer.
UpCodes | The Fins have come up with their own QR Codes: UPCODES. Used by many of Finland's mainstream newspapers, UPCODES allow readers to actively interact with the physical paper: after reading a report on an ice hockey game, they can download videos of winning goals by pointing their phones at the UPCODE, or get the latest financial/stock news by pointing at the UPCODE for a particular company (source: Antti Kaiponen, Springspotter Network).
ColorCodes | Used in Japan and Korea, ColorCodes link more appealing four-color codes to a dedicated server that sends digital content back to a mobile device. This makes it possible for mobile phones, PDAs and other devices to read color-coded images and instantly download music, video and data, whether it's family photos or a video clip of the 2006 World Cup. ColorCodes have also been used on TV, allowing viewers to vote for their favourite contestant on reality shows, for example.
iScout | Mobot is not the only player in this field though: Neven Vision’s iScout application helps mobile devices turn images into hyperlinks. "Users send a picture of something to Neven Vision, which in turn will provide them with more information about it. For example, send a snap of a painting and receive an audio-visual narrative about it. You're hungry? Just take a shot of a street and a restaurant guide will appear on your phone.”
Mobot | One step up in the food chain, and doing away with the need for special codes, Mobot allows consumers to snap a picture of a regular ad and send it to Mobot with just a few keystrokes to get more information. Cooperating with ELLEgirl magazine, for example, Mobot allows readers to purchase products, get free samples, discounts or product information from brands they select. If a reader sees a pair of shoes in a magazine, she only has to send a picture to Mobot to receive store locations. Readers can also participate in unique promotions and games such as scavenger hunts and viral marketing campaigns sponsored by the brands. Mobot works with all wireless carriers (no extra software needed), and advertising campaigns require no changes to existing visual media.
Photo Navi Wine | A similarly interesting INFOLUST application is Sony affiliate Photo Navi Wine, provided by mobile content producer Zeta Bridge Corp, which offers information on wines from cell phone shots of wine labels. By attaching a photo of a label to an e-mail message and sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org, details such as the wine's classification and country are mailed back to the phone in 15 to 20 seconds. Restaurant customers can become instant sommeliers. Sony's image recognition technology recognizes even vague or crooked camera shots taken in dark restaurants and can match roughly 3,000 brands that Zeta Bridge has information on. About 500 brands can be ordered by cell phone (source: Asahi Shimbun).
KoolTag | Codes for consumers, not producers, is one thing, but in an open source, CUSTOMER MADE world, what about codes by consumers? Check out Singapore based Tagit, who have developed a universal decoding engine which runs on an open platform, meaning that all types of digitized codes, from the QR Code and the humble 2D DataMatrix to Tagit’s own proprietary Tagit.Code can be decoded. But that's not all: the DIY side of the business is Tagit’s KoolTag: “You can create a KoolTag for any message you want to communicate to your friends. If you want your girlfriend to see a special secret image, or if you want to share a private video clip with your friends, all you need to do is to create a KoolTag on this site, print it out, email it or just stick it on a t-shirt to attract attention. All that's needed is a cameraphone to capture the KoolTag which lets you see the private content. KoolTag is free!”
The company is in expansion mode: Nokia, which has over 70% market share in India, will bundle the Tagit application with all their multimedia phones, while in Singapore, Tagit has partnered with Sistic, the country’s largest ticket seller, to introduce a new mobile ticketing system for theatre-goers. In the initial phase, customers will have the option of receiving their tickets on their mobile phone via MMS. The tickets will be sent in the form of 2D bar codes generated by the Tagit system. In a later phase, concert-goers will be able to experience the full system, from viewing videos trailers of shows, making seat selections, purchasing and receiving tickets, all on their mobile phone. Tagit is planning to enter South Korean and Chinese markets soon, and will be looking at the European market by mid 2006.
SemaCode | Even more ‘open source INFOLUST’: semacodes. Like the aforementioned QRcodes, semacodes are two-dimensional matrix barcodes with embedded URLs. Using the Semacode Software Development Kit, any user can create visual tags for objects and contexts. Software running on another user's phone will then deliver the appropriate mobile content. And because it's an open system, anyone can create as many semacode tags for as many different URLs as they wish.
One fun 'CUSTOMER-MADE meets true INFOLUST' application is the Semapedia: users pick a Wikipedia article to link to, print out the generated semapedia tag and attach it to a matching physical place. Another is Semacode Shop, which encourages bloggers to buy a t-shirt with the semacode for their website. A picture taken of the blogger wearing his personal semacode can then lead a cameraphone user directly to the blog.
Shazam | We’ve spoken about Shazam in the past, and the audio recognition service continues to make waves. Shazam enables mobile phone users, when hearing a song they like but don't know the name of, to dial '2580' and point their phone to the music source to receive a text message (SMS) with the name of the artist and track. If that doesn't satisfy one’s INFOLUST, we don’t know what will! Buying the track (which is optional) is facilitated by partners such as Amazon.co.uk. Other services include sending song clips to friends and accessing your ‘tags’ on a personalised web page. Shazam is expanding fast: the company boasts a music database of 3.2 million tracks, which date back to the early 1950s, it has handled more than 20 million calls worldwide, and is available in 19 countries, working with more 50 mobile carriers, giving the service a potential reach of over 500 million mobile phone users worldwide.
Gracenote | Competition is alive and kicking in the form of Gracenote, whose similar service is called Mobile MusicID, and comes with an impressive database of over 8 million 'waveform fingerprints'. The MusicID technology is used by MusicPhone in the US (available on AT&T Wireless, now Cingular), KTF in South Korea, KDDI in Japan, Musiwave in Portugal, Oi in Brazil and Golden Bytes in the Benelux.
Staying true to the topic (there is no information overload!), we'll soon publish another extensive Briefing on INFOLUST, which will include bluecasting & RFID, intelligent packaging, and everything from museum cellphone tours to how information may well become the brand. Can't wait? Here's a batch of even more INFOLUST links to get creative with. These are travel related, but rest assured you can find equally inspiring examples in any other BC2 industry.
Will INFOLUST, like every great romance, mature into a slightly less obsessed INFOLOVE, or crash and burn into INFODIVORCE? Somehow, despite the inevitable backlash (especially from older generations not raised on info transparency), we don't think so. INFOLUST is empowerment and that’s too much of a turn-on for consumers to let go of. It’s not easily turned back, either. For that to happen, the current economic system would have to be turned upside down, and the online genie forced back into its bottle. Which is why, for example, China’s efforts to temper INFOLUST amongst Chinese consumers is a doomed effort. But we’re digressing. All of the above is just phase one, as the technology needed to do this properly is only being imagined now, and the majority of consumers don’t yet fully realize how INFOLUSTFUL they really are.
* Oh, and please don't mistake the CURATED CONSUMPTION trend for the anti-trend to INFOLUST: consumers will still need curators to make sense of it all, but we would like to argue that the SeatGurus and Tripadvisors are the curators.
So, the real opportunity, for now, is understanding that all of the above is something consumers actually need and want, that delights them, that they crave. Because it makes them smarter, or gives them a more pleasant life, or saves them money. They quite literally ASK for relevant information, even giving you permission to provide them with more.
INFOLUST is obviously not about advertising, it's about pull, not push. So are you providing your customers with every price, product, comparison, and story element that you can, on THEIR terms, not yours? Are you making this information available to them wherever they need it most, accessible through whatever channel or device they prefer, so they can get the best of the best, the cheapest of the cheapest, the first of the first, the healthiest of the healthiest, the coolest of the coolest? Are you constantly scanning your environment for new signs of increased INFOLUST? Are you partnering with INFOLUST leaders? Have you tried setting up your own coded project, working with the Shotcodes or Nevens or TagIts of this world? Time for some passionate ideation sessions! >> Email this trend to a friend.
MASTERS OF THE YOUNIVERSE