Make My World Clickable

I don't venture out into nature all that much, because I find it, well, overrated. Being a modern urban creature saturated in electronic media from the time I could memorize TV Guide, I find organic environments, well, underwhelming. They have that cool, crisp fresh-air action going that always clogs my sinuses. I also have this overwhelming desire to turn up the color setting on landscapes so that the outdoor world better matches the fantastic palette of my Sony HDTV. Yeah, I am that insufferable guy who wishes the real world were a bit more like the fabricated one we have constructed for ourselves in the last century of advanced technology.

This weekend was different -- if only because my otherwise darling teenage daughter was thoroughly kicking my butt in Halo 3. I am not sure where she picked up these murderous fragging skills, but I am guessing she gets it from her mother. It is pretty annoying to have your daughter realize she can yank a turret gun off of nearby jeep and assassinate her father in two shots. "Yesss" she yells, and tiger-pumps the air with a relish that might make Freud rethink the Electra Complex.

Which brings me, circuitously as usual, to my encounter with the great outdoors. Suddenly I was eager to take the air and walk the dog. Just a few steps into this encounter with a non-virtual world, I see a For Sale sign in front of a neighbor's house and a prompt to text a shortcode for more information. I get in return a short description of the house, the price and a direct call link to the realtor. This was the simple but clear model of having the right message for the right user at the right time and in the right place.

This is the way the non-virtual world should work -- more like the interactive virtual one. This is like turning the color setting up on reality. Making the physical world clickable should be the goal of mobile marketing. Pushing ads banners, pre-rolls and alerts to users is all well and good, but the real power of this medium is that it lets us opt into any moment, any place and any object. With the right standards in place, we should be able to use a phone as a universal mouse on reality.

And there is the rub -- standards. At last weeks's OMMA East, Carat's David Verklin offhandedly suggested that the Japanese QR code should be a force in the U.S. in the next 18 months or so. These small visual tags on any printed material or object can be read and transmitted by a phone cam. In return, the user can gets back any kind of information, including a WAP page, text, click to call, etc. The problem is that the U.S. market can't even gets its act together for Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) interoperability, let alone adopt a QR code standard across carriers. And then there is the radio frequency crowd, which wants to use a kind of phone-based RFID system so we can wave a phone in front of a "chipped" object to get back information. Then there is the geo-location approach, which uses GPS and an internal compass to locate where you and your phone are in the world, and even where the device is pointing.

Just about all of these possible approaches have the same effect: They make good on the underlying promise of mobile media to activate any moment into an interactive experience. The target here is not being able to bring the Web with you anywhere. The goal is to make the world itself more like the Web.

At this point, I don't much care which approach wins. But the power and promise of a standard, friction-less mobile pull technology is too great to hope for a natural shakeout. We need adults to step in and help thrash out a single cross-carrier standard that will help ignite this dormant rocket of mobile marketing. I should be able to go into a grocery store, point my phone at the faux natural cereals and get nutritional details or a coupon in return. I should be able to point my phone at a magazine ad for a film and get the trailer, theater times, and a coupon. I should be able to point my phone at the Grand Canyon and get options for text, video or audio information about the setting.

Not that I would ever go to the Grand Canyon... because I am not sure they get digital cable.