A searching look

A fascinating Mobile Monday on Feb 5th was hosted by the BBC at their White City headquarters in London. It's a huge glass and steel testament to the effectiveness of one of the UK's best known and best loved exports - part fancy office block and part uber-new media mecca.

Arrived a little early in the hope of finding somewhere to eat but had no idea what was about, unfortunately, so just had to use my eyes and my nose to locate somewhere to have dinner before the evening's events began. Starbucks to the rescue, conveniently located in the shopping-mall-like ground floor leading into the guts of the building network, and a somewhat nutrition-free meal followed.

Given that the topic of the evening's event was mobile search, it got me thinking, over my toasted panini and grande caramel macchiato - what difference would an effective means of mobile search had on my London outing?

20 minutes or so earlier, sitting on the Central Line tube winding my way through central London a hundred feet or so underground I had a bit of a craving for noodles. I have never been to White City before and so had no idea what was there and what was nearby. Being out of coverage would also have limited my ability to just open up my phone on my way over there and download details of my travel over the network. The only thing that would have saved me there would have been;

  • A calendar synchronised to my handset with the location information in the calendar entry "up to date"
  • A software component on the handset that, at least 12 hours before the meeting, would look through my diary, see what was coming up and download a collection of relevant information regarding the location I was travelling to.

The pieces for this are very much available now, but there is definitely some wizardry required to link it all together. The hard bits are;

  • Disambiguating a "location" from a diary entry. Often times the location entry I put in my diary is just a vague prompt to me rather than something a computer could reasonably work out. On Monday night it was much more precise, so in this context at least, it would have worked out ok.
  • Defining "relevant information". I suppose a starting point would have been seeing the time of the meeting and working out that the meeting was around dinnertime and therefore it was likely I'd need food before it. Together with that would probably have been noticing the end of the meeting and working out that I was going to either need somewhere to stay in London or a means to get home from where I was.

Clearly one of the main things to be downloaded as part of the relevant information is a map of the area - just one showing immediate environs (say 1km radius). Had this been available, the rest of the information downloaded could have come with coordinates to allow them to be displayed on the map.

Had this been on my handset, my tube trip would not have been spent looking at my reflection in the window, but instead I could have been able to see some recommendations (with associated locations) of good places to eat in the area. Maybe I would have been able to find those noodles I'd been craving...

Nick Clarey
in Opinion

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