Context is king – but please add common sense

Recently a senior BillingViews operative took a quick vacation. Three well spent days and two very well spent nights made sure that a small group of holiday makers were well refreshed, well fed and well relaxed. Photographs were taken, friendships were strengthened and promises were made about creating Dropbox folders to share the photos which, of course, came to nothing.

Vacation over, all involved went back to work.

Some weeks later one of the holiday makers got a message from Google asking if she wanted a photo album of her recent trip to Amsterdam. Intrigued, she clicked ‘why not.’ Actually she clicked ‘OK’ but we are busy investigating contextual permissions here, so ‘why not’ seems more appropriate.

After she clicked, she waited. Circles circled on her screen for a while and then she was presented with a draft of the photo album.

She watched in fascination as the album not only showed her the photographs that she had taken but also a very detailed map of where she had been. It showed the flight from Edinburgh, the canal trip around Amsterdam, a photo of the hotel we stayed at – together with its name, which she did not even photograph – the restaurant we went to, our train journey the next day to Den Haag, our wobbly progress on bicycles around Den Haag and our return journey. Luckily the return journey was on a train too, otherwise it might have appeared a little wobbly.

Was this, we asked ourselves, a brilliant context sensitive offering or an intrusion into what we did and where we went on holiday? There was disagreement, but not much. She said that the only reason not to embrace this kind of offering is if you are doing something wrong. On the other hand she could see that there was an element of feeling that you were being spied on – that Big Brother was watching.

The absolutely critical thing here is context.

Get it right and you win, get it wrong and you hurt your brand. An example from the recent Mobile Research Summit came from an IBM executive who pointed out that getting a message from Walgreens offering you something you really need is great, getting that message as you are passing their store on a train and the next stop is 40 miles away is really annoying. 

He also said that untargeted mobile messages are the new spam.

Even if you accept that context is the new goal, that all the data that we have will from now on be analysed with context in mind, that geofencing information will be seamlessly analysed in the context of a customer’s preferences, there are some things that it will take some time to get used to.

News of sensors that ‘listen’ to your various sounds such as breathing, yawning, eating or drinking are now being touted as adding an extra, wearable dimension to the context of communications. Whilst we can understand that monitoring how much you are eating, sleeping and the rest of it can be beneficial in a ‘healthcare’ kind of way, that seems a little too spooky.

Knowing where we are is one thing, knowing that we slightly overdid it last night and are about to receive a small electric shock from our ear piece is entirely another.

Context is king – but let us go slowly.

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About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

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