Physical Web means interacting with physical places and things. More specifically it’s a open bluetooth packet protocol called Eddystone-URL, provided by Google. Basically this means that places and things can be embedded with a beacon, that broadcasts URL-links over bluetooth into their environment. A beacon is a small low powered device, that broadcasts content over bluetooth. They have a battery that can last up to five years. These links can be then scanned with smartphones and tablets with an app called Physical Web. Physical Web is currently supported by iOS and Android. Physical Web is also natively in new Android phones (4.4 and above) by the name ‘Nearby’. An example could be a movie poster, that has a beacon, that broadcasts a link to the movie’s trailer. Or a parking meter, that broadcasts a link, that takes you to a web page to pay for your parking. Or a new gadget could have beacon, that broadcasts a link to its instructions.
My bachelor’s thesis focuses on Physical Web and more specifically on utilizing it in an event. The initial idea was to have Physical Web beacons in the event area, that make participating in the event easier and more interesting, but also bring extra value for the event. Things such as the event program or feedback form can be provided as a link transmitted by a Physical web beacon. These links can be accessed anywhere in the event area by scanning for links with the Physical web app.
During Spring 2017 I presented the idea of using Physical Web in an event to TAMK Floworks. Floworks was interested and decided to provide the beacons for the event. Six Estimote Proximity Beacons were ordered.
During the summer I worked in co-operation with a SCIL-project team that was responsible for planning and organizing TAMK day. Our goal was to prototype the use of beacons in an event. In the event, the team had an information stand where a beacon was placed. The beacon broadcasted a link to a quiz about environmental questions. Not many people used the link broadcasted by the beacon to go answer the quiz, but we realised what needs to be done differently so more people would use it. We would need bigger posters that inform visitors how to use Physical Web in their phones.
For the sake of gaining more insight, we decided to use the beacons in another event as well – SUSTAIN2017, on 6th of October (https://sustain2017.tamk.fi/). In the event students from different fields introduced different sustainability issues and also how they take sustainability into account in their respective fields. I introduced Physical Web and how it could be used to the work group responsible for organizing the event. I contacted the student teams that we’re going to showcase their subjects about sustainability in the event, and asked them for a brief introduction about their topic and for an image somehow related to it. Based on the texts and images they sent, I built each of the teams their own page on the website. In the event each of the teams had their own beacon on their stand that broadcasted a link to their page on the event website.
An example of a broadcasted link in the event:
There’s really only two requirements for the broadcasted link:
- It has to be a HTTPS-link
- This meant that the whole event site had to be HTTPS-encrypted.
- It has to be short
- An URL-shortener service like goo.gl or bit.ly can be used to shorten long links.
- In the Physical Web app they will show up unshortened in their original form.
For the event I designed posters and handouts about how to enable Physical Web in one’s phone. I was personally handing out these fliers to visitors during the event. Most visitors had never heard of Physical Web, and it soon became obvious that I also had to explain to each person what Physical Web was about and how it is used in this event. According to my personal observations, as the visitors learned about Physical Web, their excitement and interest of it grew. They were also interested about how it can be used in elsewhere. After my explanation they continued to install the app or turned on Nearby in their settings. Everything worked — they found the links broadcasted by the beacons and clicked on them which took them to the event site.
Although everything worked on the technical side, the overall conclusion from the event was that not many people were aware that Physical Web was used in this event or even knew what it is. The solution would be integrating Physical Web in every step of the event marketing, with a brief explanation of what is Physical Web. Basically this means adding the logo to every flier, poster and promo image. But also a little mention and info about it in a newsletter or website. The handout flier could have also been better. The backside of the flier was empty, which would have been a good place for more information about Physical Web.
Although there were problems getting visitors to use Physical Web in the event, this provided excellent insight into what needs to be done to get visitors to try it out. Physical Web has to have presence in pre-event marketing, but also on the event web page and in the event area. It helps of course, if there is a reward for trying it. For example it is possible to set up a beacon to transmit a link to a coupon or contest, which would act as lure to try it.
If Physical Web becomes more common in the near future, it may not need as much advertising to get event visitors to use it. After all Physical Web is in a very early stage at the moment.