Thursday, February 01, 2007

Vista Makes It Easier to Build Ad Hoc Display Networks

In case you’ve been stuck under a rock or trapped on an American Airlines flight, Tuesday was the official launch of Microsoft Vista. I chose not to stand in line for a copy, but BusinessWeek tells me that Vista’s greatest consumer benefit will be easier access to digital content (“The Real Value of Vista”, BusinessWeek, February 5, 2007). One example they give is a wireless application that automatically discovers digital picture frames and sends them images to display.

I’ll freely admit that my first thought on reading this was, “There’s a perfect example of the Client X Client notion of slots.” OK, I’m obsessed. But my mental image of a slot is pretty much a rectangle floating in space waiting for content, so free-standing picture frames are about as close to that as you could come in the physical world. (Still closer: flexible LCDs that you can paste onto any surface—a technology that itself is apparently pretty close to realization.)

People probably are not interested in displaying advertisements on their personal picture frames. (Never say never: what about an anti-drunk driving ad your teenager’s bedroom? Or how about subsidizing the cost of a big screen TV with ads sold by the set manufacturer? The set maker’s ads could override those included in the broadcast content, so the number of ads seen by the viewer wouldn’t increase.)

Even ignoring personal space, the picture frame technology could be adapted to digital signage in public and commercial locations. What’s different from existing digital signage capabilities (see recent Cisco announcement) is the flexibility gained when signs can be automatically added when they announce their presence.

These signs could report their physical location via GPS sensing. The server would translate this into more meaningful information (in a store, near a road, etc.) by matching against reference data. A not very large step beyond that would be to sense the surrounding environment—using cell phone or RFID signatures to determine traffic volume and movement information (already used in automated traffic reporting), if not also specific individuals.

With all this information available, an intelligent system could automatically dispatch the most suitable content to each display. Different content providers might bid for each display, auction-style. Build a bit more intelligence into the display device, and it might even accept bids from several different servers. This would be in the device owner’s interest since revenues would be higher from a blind auction.

Just to be clear: you could do all this today with fixed signs or other fixed locations such as ads on Web pages. What’s new is the ability to add new signs without any setup: they simply announce their availability and the server starts working with them. Of course, this requires more intelligent systems to figure out which content to send, and that's what we do at Client X Client.

Thank you, Bill Gates.

No comments: