Non-Retail Uses for iBeacons

Airfy - home use of iBeacon TechnologyIn my last post, I explained what iBeacons are and a bit about what they do, especially in retail stores. There are some pretty cool non-retail uses of iBeacon technology, too.

Here are some examples:

  • CES: At CES, if you had the CES app installed, you could play a scavenger hunt and win a prize
  • Education: Teachers are using them to automatically take attendance. The iBeacons recognize when a student has entered the classroom
  • Museums: Hanging around a painting? iBeacons could send you more information about the painting and the artist
  • Hotels: automated check-in and check-out
  • SXSW: install the SXSW Go app, and you’ll be connected to over 1000 ibeacons. The beacons will tell you what’s happening nearby (if you’ve ever been to SXSW, you’ll know that is important!), and who else has arrived.
  • Disney World: Disney has created an iBeacon-compatible wristband that acts as a room key for their hotel room, pays for stuff in the park, acts as a park pass, gets you into the fast lane, and helps collect photos.

In my next post, I’ll talk about using iBeacons in a library setting.

Pic by iotlist

iBeacon Technology

an ibeacon and a smartphoneHave you heard about iBeacons? It’s possible this new technology will change many things about how we interact with our world. I’m still learning and experimenting with iBeacons – here’s what I know so far.

For starters – what exactly is iBeacon technology? It’s basically a low-level location and broadcasting technology that is built into smartphones. Here’s how it works: A beacon is a small BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) device that’s battery powered. It broadcasts a small amount of data, and smartphone apps can receive the signal and perform actions or share locations.

Apple has jumped into this big-time. Newer iOS 7 and later devices have iBeacon transmitters and receivers built into them. Newer Android and Windows devices also have BLE compatibility built in. Because of Apple’s involvement, you’ll see this technology referred to as both iBeacons (the Apple version) and as Beacons (no “i”).

Basically, iBeacons do two things:

  1. They are awesome at location. They can find you (or, more accurately, your smartphone) within a few feet.
  2. In conjunction with an app, they can send you information – either general or personalized info, depending on the app.

These two things help create the “magic” of iBeacons; ambient context identification. This simply means that the iBeacon can send you personalized, pertinent information, based on where you’re standing (depending on the app and what location services you have turned on).

Retail stores have been early adopters and experimenters of iBeacon technology. Macy’s and Apple have installed them in all their stores. If you have the appropriate app installed (Shopkick for Macy’s, the Apple Store app for Apple), you will be sent “helpful” messages about sales and other deals, depending on where you are in the store. Apple will alert you when your order is assembled.

My next couple of posts will cover more about iBeacons. Stay tuned!

Image by Jonathan Nalder

Which Comes First – Strategic Plan or Technology Plan?

Last week at the Future Tech Strategies for Libraries symposium, Rebecca Jones (of Dysart & Jones Associates) spoke about digital strategy. She always has good things to say, so I always listen closely.

She said this (my summary of it): Technology drives what the organization does. So, should the organization’s strategic plan come first, or should the technology plan come first? It’s starting to shift to the technology plan.

On the one hand, if you have a good strategic plan that is including technology … meaning that your tech manager is with it and has helped develop those strategies … then following a good organizational strategy makes sense. That’s how I’ve always operated. There’s no need for a real technology plan, because it’s embedded in the plans of the library.

On the other hand, today’s technology is driving the organization in many ways. Even something as “traditional” as new computer purchases, updating an OS, or replacing a telephone system (doing that this year!) can have a big impact on the organization’s budget, on planning, on training, and on organizational capacity for the year.

Then, when your “new phone system” is moving from an out-of-date system to a VOIP system with unified messaging, hand-off capabilities to a mobile device, internal chat messaging, etc … that can have a HUGE positive impact in how the organization does its work, and can … yes … have a big impact on the library’s strategic plans.

So – what do you think? Chicken or the egg? Strategic plan first, or technology plan first? Please share!

Pic by Kyle Van Horn

Moo Cards and Customer Delight

Moo CardsMoo Cards really knows how to make me smile. They recently did just that – by sending me some free stuff!

Right before Christmas, I received a small package from Moo. Odd, because I hadn’t ordered anything from them. What was in it? Some blank cards and envelopes. Designed by Rob Lowe (not the movie actor).

The note that came with the package said this: “Did you know you’re one of MOO’s best customers?” My best guess is that they thanked all their 2014 customers by sending stuff out to them.

Pretty nice of them. And sorta cool, too. I know I’m NOT one of their best customers. I’ve ordered some business cards from them … a couple of times. Nothing more!

And yet, the way they treat their customers – like you really are one of their best customers – is refreshing.

And makes me want to buy from them again.

So … do we work on delighting our customers? I’m not sure. If we work really hard at having the best, newest books in the library, or having the fastest internet, or setting up a new bookmobile stop … that’s not customer delight. That’s business as usual. Delight comes from something unexpected, and these types of things are something our customers expect. All good things – just not something that warrants customer delight.

If you really, truly worked harder in 2015 on delighting your customers … what three things would you focus on?

Hmm… I’ll have to think on that one myself.

Five Things to Remember when Opening a Makerspace

My library just opened our new makerspace, called the Make-It Lab, on Monday. If your library has opened a makerspace, or is thinking about it, remember this – it’s a very different type of service to create, and you most definitely WILL be surprised by something.

Here are some things we have learned through the planning and opening of our makerspace (I’m sure there are more than these!):

1. You can’t train for everything. When you create a service involving stuff you simply haven’t done before, like digital music creation, 3D printing, or offering Mac computers … I guarantee you will be surprised at something. So make sure to train for flexibility, and know who to call when you get stumped.

2. You don’t have all the equipment your customers want. You won’t have everything your customers want. On our opening day, an older gentleman who was interested in seeing the space started asking questions. He liked our VHS-to-digital transfer tools, but wondered if we could also do cassette tapes, VHS-C tapes, and DVDs. We had to say no to some of that because we don’t have all the equipment needed, but told him that we’d keep track of the request and see what we could do as we adjust the room for our customers.

And that was just the first day.

3. You have more stuff than you realize. You didn’t just buy a camera, a 3D printer, and a microphone. You bought a camera (and a power cable, and a battery, and [hopefully] a battery charger, and an instruction manual), a 3D printer (and probably an extra spool or two of filament), and a microphone (and probably a microphone holder, maybe a mic stand adapter, a mic stand, and an XLR cable). You have to figure out where to put everything, how to label all this stuff so it makes sense for customers and staff, and how to check that nothing “accidentally” walks away.

4. There are a TON of details. I’ll admit – details are not my strong suit. Thankfully, I work in a library with some remarkable detail-oriented staff! We had to work through some processes like: how do you check out the room; do you check out the room or the computer; how many people can be in the room at the same time; how, exactly, do you pay for your 3D print; how do you go about getting equipment to customers, etc.

And each of those processes have multiple steps behind them.

5. 3D printers are persnickety. We first bought a Makerbot 5th Generation 3D printer (my earlier post about the Makerbot still holds true – no improvement). As of now, it has not worked well enough for us to feel comfortable putting it out for public use. Makerbot’s “SmartExtruder” is not so smart – it jams every couple of prints. So we did some more research, and purchased an Ultimaker 2. In the week or two that we’ve had it, it has worked great – no jams!

Bonus point – have fun! If you’re opening some type of makerspace/hackerspace/digital media lab, you have a good chance to attract people to your library that don’t usually use your services, or you might introduce a regular, more traditional customer to a fun, new experience.

What’s not to like about that?