Jon Fletcher 2021-03-10

Web NFCs - access to a 3rd dimension for digital publishers

When it comes to content, there's a big difference between active and passive consumption. Not many people search for the kind of click-bait articles that live at the bottom of web pages, yet when they're there, they can be irresistible. Put a golf magazine in a dentist's office and people that hate the sport will have a leaf through, just because it's there

How and where content appears is crucial to how many people consume it. The problem digital publishers face is that they are restricted to the online world, which despite its sprawling scope, has very defined pathways of behavior. 

People have to think of a topic, the publisher they want to check, and then actively jump into the digital world. There have to be 3 or 4 brain events before that leap gets made. Even with social media curating feeds of unpredictable content, it doesn't have the magic of discovering something surprising and scarce. 

Can digital publishers build a portal to the real world? 

Virtual and augmented reality trends such as PokemonGo have shown us that merging physical and digital experiences are not just possible, people loved it. 

NFCs are a way to put digital publishers' content into real-world environments. Similar to how Pikachu could appear in a car park when you waved your phone at it, NFCs could be used to place 'portals' to curated publisher content into the real world. 

Wireless data transfer allows smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other devices to share data when in close proximity.
Scannable stickers or 'tags' (similar to QR codes) can be placed anywhere that would give links to publisher content. 
By matching content to locations, context, and primary uses, it would add a way to connect real-world experiences with related publisher content. 

It adds depth and variety to familiar settings and returns some unpredictability to the online content experience. 

What are NFCs? 

NFC stands for Near Field Communications, a short-range wireless technology operating at 13.56 MHz that enables the communication between devices at a distance less than 10 cm. 

NFC devices are used in contactless payments systems used in credit cards and entry tools like electronic ticket smart cards. 

NFC tags use a microchip, wired up to an antenna. When the device is near the NFC tag, the radio power from the device is captured by the antenna and powers the chip, the chip then responds with a radio signal of its contents. They don't require their own dedicated power supply as the power comes from the device that scans the NFC. 

Currently, they are not used by digital publishers or for promoting content. NFCs are mainly being applied in more transactional use cases such as:
  • Boarding Passes and Transit Tickets
  • Ticket Stubs
  • Business Cards
  • High Tech Credit Card
  • Parking Meters
  • Unlocking Doors and Starting Cars
  • Timer Triggers
  • Bluetooth Pairing

But, there have been examples of using NFCs to deliver content to users' devices. 
Museums and art galleries use NFCs to display additional information about a display when the user touches their device to an NFC tag near the exhibit. 

A visitor to a gallery might never consider looking up the films the classic car they're looking at has been in, but present them with the story and it's more than likely they'll be intrigued. Publishers could use this technology to add context to real-world points of interest. 

And unlike a QR code, NFC chips can be reprogrammed anytime by the owner. Where QR codes need a dedicated app or the camera open to work, NFC tags only require a “tap” from NFC-enabled smartphones to connect. 

Publishers can place content in key locations. Add depth, context, and stories in areas of historical interest. Recipes and food content next to products in the supermarket. NFCs with interesting content could be placed in normally boring locations, like waiting rooms or queuing areas. 

Imagine waiting to be called to renew your passport. You see a tag from the New York Times and know that you can scan it to get a story designed to take you away from the boredom. How many people line up to climb the Eiffel Tower that could use some content to break up the monotony? 

Place represents a context and dimension that is hard to adapt to for publishers. By bridging physical with digital through the use of technology like NFCs, publishers can push exclusive content, introduce gamification and collections, and find readers that would never think to actively look them up.

NFCs could add an element of unpredictability and possibility to the online experience. A branded NFC token could be anything. It's been placed there for a reason so it adds a frisson of excitement to an otherwise boring scenario. 

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