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Consumer Research


Insight into the Web Wide World

Insight into the Web Wide World

Latest from OMD Sense

For several years, youth culture researchers have been telling us that the younger you are, the less you distinguish between online and offline experiences – hanging out is hanging out, whether it’s sitting on the wall around the corner or IMing on a social network. Now this is happening for the rest of us too.

Geography is joining up with cyberspace, resulting in what commentators are calling the “geospatial web”. A good metaphor for this is the sport of parkour, also known as “free-running).

The Future Laboratory has noticed that parkour looks like a real-world imitation of platform-based computer games such as Mario Bros. – a sort of crossover of the real and the virtual. This crossover is starting to happen in lots of ways.

Better than ever before, people can now search the real world on the web and use the web to work with the real world.  We’re calling this trend the Web Wide World.

World to Web

The most basic geospatial tool is GPS. It can tell you how to get somewhere and it can tell you exactly where you are at any given time. Camera makers have begun to look beyond the technology’s fundamental uses and to develop GPS add-ons for their products – a highly-regarded example is Sony’s "Map Your Memories" GPS unit for Cybershot.

This has encouraged the evolution of what’s been called “geotagging” (also known as “geocoding”), where your picture also records data for the precise global position of the place you’ve photographed. The geotag can include longitude and latitude, altitude, place-name, bearing and even the angle of your shot.

At time of writing (February 08) the photo-sharing website Flickr estimates that only 5% of photographs on bear a geotag, but this is projected to increase as other manufacturers imitate Sony.

In practise, geotagging means that you can look at an image on your desktop and get a ton of extra data about it, as well as adding it to the data on the Web by, for example, locating it as a pin on Google Maps.

World to Web and back to World

But geotagging is not limited to putting bits of the world into a web-format. In the Web Wide World, you can go to a (real) place, connect to the Web using a phone or laptop, activate your GPS and find out about that place.

The kind of information you could conceivably call up includes pretty much everything, with scope for a vast amount of data about and provided by brands, and location-specific brand messages. Not only could such messages be location-specific, they could constitute lots of different kinds of information.

The technology writer Mike Liebhold has made a list of the kinds of data that could be included in geotags:

-          live, in-place cultural information, entertainment, and games

-          history, mythology, and social information about people nearby

-          geodemographics

-          safety information based on data about health, accidents, and crime

-          political data, facilities details, and local public services

-          physical objects' material composition and origins

-          micro-local commercial information; links to manufacturers' sites and help desks

-          instructions on uses; stories about prior use; user annotations

-          digital graffiti; user-created art; and location-tagged messages

One example of geospatial IT already in use is the Quick Response barcode, a sort of supercharged barcode which, according to Wikipedia, was originally used to track parts in vehicle manufacturing.

A QR code can be placed on any three dimensional surface and read by many high-spec modern smart phones, which can also be directed to a website by the code. (The coloured square on the right is a QR code for the first twelve verses of Lewis Carroll’s poem "The Walrus and The Carpenter”.)


QR is already widely used in marketing campaigns in Japan, and is coming in here. Until we all have smartphones, however, the world of games may provide the best example for brands wishing to crossover into the Web Wide World.

In parkour, a real world game imitates the digital world, but gamers are now actually playing computer games in the real world. Imagine a Nintendo Wii networked, with extra sensors, on real city streets which are also the streets of a game you’re playing.

This is already happening. Best of all may be “geo-caching” – treasure hunts using GPS systems and real world “caches” of “treasure”. OMD was one of the first to use such techniques with

The Web Wide World now holds even richer opportunities for your brand!

For feedback or comment, please contact Insight Manager, OMD UK, Michael Tully on

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