Retailers were arguably some of the first power-users of what we now call Big Data -- information pulled from a variety of sources and crunched together to make predictions and decisions. In fact, I think Wal-Mart (that's how they spelled it at the time) was one of the earliest users of the term "data warehouse" because they were generating such a staggering amount of information, and collecting it all in a single place for analysis.
Today you don't have to be the biggest retailer in the world to be able to put together a Big Data plan. A huge amount of useful information can be pulled for almost nothing thanks to for-hire marketing analytics providers, government website APIs for pulling socioeconomic, ethnographic and geographic information, and of course social networks like Twitter and Facebook who have access to (and often republish) the public (and sometimes private) information of billions of individuals around the world.
While thinking about this, I came across a nice infographic from Data Science Central which attempts to outline some of the benefits that Big Data analysis can confer on participating retailers. When I first looked over the graphic, one part (where they posit that retailers have transitioned from "making transactions" to "formating relationships" with customers struck me. My initial reaction was "ah, typical Big Data hyperbole." But after considering it more, it seemed more true. Today the majority of retailers (online and off) that I frequent "know" a lot about me. They're -- at times -- uncannily good at predicting what I'm shopping for, what I need, and what I simply want. And yes, the "relationship" between us is extremely superficial, but it's leaps and bounds ahead of what it would have been shopping in a big retail store or discount club 15 or 20 years ago. In a nutshell: it's useful.
I've clipped only a small part of the infographic below. The whole thing is quite a bit larger and available on the Data Science Central link above, and is certainly worth a few minutes of contemplation.
Once upon a time it was fashionable to produce specialized POP displays that used a short-throw projector to light up a roughly human-shaped piece of 3M Vikuity film. When a recorded image of a person was displayed, it kinda, sorta looked like a live person talking, if you squinted and cocked your head just the right way. These "virtual mannequins" never really took off in a big way, probably because they were expensive, took up a fair amount of floor space, and, once you got past the novelty, looked terrible. To wit:
However a new approach using a ridiculously impractical (for now) 216 projectors to simulate a 3d object on a flat screen. By recording the initial subject using an array of cameras instead of just one, and then using a computer to crunch the resulting data down into small slices, each projectors can display the light for just a small portion of the subject at a specific viewing angle. The result is a compelling and convincing 3D-looking display on a 2D surface:
Given the cost and complexity of putting together the initial footage, and the massive amount of floor space that the display device takes up, I think that practical applications for the technology are currently somewhat limited. An article over at Gizmodo suggests that museums and other educational contexts might benefit the most, especially in cases where adding a human touch would be beneficial, but it might be too expensive to keep actual humans on staff. The summary article from the researchers at USC suggests similar applications.
I sometimes think, though, that these researchers work on these projects simply because they can and they're awesome.
One of the reasons these blog articles have been so few and far between this year (and were nonexistant last year) is because we've been busy diversifying here at WireSpring. Way back in 2000 we started out primarily as a kiosk software company, and deployed dozens of projects across thousands of locations to let users apply for in-store credit, enter sweepstakes to win prizes, and print coupons to encourage up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. As the digital signage market began to expand, we made a slight pivot to include digital signage in our offering. This made a lot of sense, as we basically treated digital signage like a specific kiosk app and were able to happily continue developing our platform.
A few years ago, we saw the opportunity to pivot again, this time into what's called the Internet of Things (IoT). At the time we were calling it M2M (machine-to-machine communications), but that's neither here nor there. We've since been party to a number of really interesting projects, all of which incorporate some elements of digital signage into much more complex devices that are deployed everywhere from hospitals to department stores to C-stores. All of which are also quite different from the plain-vanilla digital signage that we continue to deploy for waiting rooms, corporate communications, digital menu boards and the rest. And of course we've been keeping our tech guys busy with growing our platform, focusing a bit more on device management stuff rather than content management, scheduling and playback compliance.
Long story short (which is clearly a struggle for me), we've been swamped, and for the last year I've found myself putting in the kinds of founder's hours I thought I had left behind a decade ago. Frown emoji. But, our new website is in place. The rats nest of infrastructure that we've replaced has made things faster, more maintainable and easier to upgrade. And a pile of customer projects are finally moving into that "mature" status that means more free time for me. If anybody's still interested, I'll be resuming a semi-regular blogging schedule pretty soon. Probably not every week, but hopefully at least a few times a month. Old weblinks should continue to work forever. New links will be published to https://www.wirespring.com/blogs/dsinsider We're separately maintaining an Internet of Things-themed blog (cleverly) called M2M Insider, should can be found at https://www.wirespring.com/blogs/m2minsider should you feel so inclined.
So to both of my readers, I just want to say thanks for checking in!
For those folks wondering if or when we were planning to re-start our email newsletters, the answer is: Real Soon Now™. We've had as many as 25,000 subscribers over the years, and cleaning out those who have left the industry, are no longer interested, or, in a few cases, died, has been more challenging than I expected.
We plan to send out subscription notice emails to everyone next week, and resume semi-regular blog posts about all things digital signage shortly afterward, starting with more content-related stuff, since that's my jam (I'm also going to start using more date-able slang so that these posts automagically become more cringeworthy over time).