Facebook: A New Game for Beacons? | Guest Post

Facebook iBeaconThe adoption of iBeacon may have just been significantly changed by Facebook for their 745 million active mobile users, as reported on their January 28th SEC report.

As regular readers of this blog know, applications are required for iBeacon support within iOS devices and their hugely adopted app now supports GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth beacons for location data as a part of their “Foursquaresque” Pin Points feature rolling out in New York, the back yard of what made Foursquare a staple in 2007; albeit from manual user check-ins, something that Facebook also semi-automated in their app via GPS and WiFi rendering Foursquare obsolete in 2012.

A problem with this rollout is that most users have push notifications within the Facebook mobile application turned off. This fact is why the company separated their messenger application, so users had a new approval process within a unique application, to which Facebook hopes that its users will leave push notifications turned on.

They knew this data after their purchase of WhatsApp, an application that overwhelmingly has push notifications turned on, as it has built a trust relationship with users. To explain further, when you would “like” or “comment” and otherwise make small talk upon a Facebook wall, a notification would be sent to relevant users of the mobile application on a smartphone – interrupting their day with a non-critical message.

As Facebook has become a replacement for people’s off-hours or entertainment time, tapping into TV watching time as a way to socialize with remote friends, those alerts coming to phones were interruptive and broke the trust that users had with the application. Hence push notifications were turned off. Mark stated the reason for the two different apps was to pull up the message more quickly from the notification screen of iOS in this quote from 2014 “Whenever you receive a message through the Facebook Messenger app, it sends a notification to your phone so that you can quickly pull up that conversation.”

Most users keep push notifications for their SMS, WhatsApp, Telegram or other instant messaging clients turned on. But once an application gets “spammy” or otherwise interrupts your personal time with unnecessary alerts, it is either deleted or banished to the world of never alerting. Currently, if you turn alerts off in WhatsApp or the Facebook Messenger application, you are greeted with a dark screen stating “Please turn on Notifications” for the “app to work best” along with visuals on how to re-enable what they deem optimal to you. They designed it to mimic an error message to entice users to turn the functionality back on.

With the current Apple iOS security model, in order for iBeacon to automate an app, notifications along with Location Based Services settings must be both turned on.   Therefore this rollout of iBeacon support in Facebook proper app will not be useful in having a user launch an application within a space. That being said, once they launch the app to front, it will be able to read any beacons present and automatically display tips, coupons or other content in their database for that position. It was nice to see they are also using WiFi and GPS for this, as the beacon rollout worldwide is negligible at this time. This is why my company NewAer focused on any radio signal that sends out a beacon, long before iBeacon was announced.

Google has the potential to go big with users as well. Scott Jenson is working on a Google project that enables “seeing” beacons within mobile Chrome on Android, along with a URL string that is buried within the Meta data of a beacon broadcast framework. I liken this to a QR code as they embedded direct URLs, but beacons could have a potential spammy element.

Take this scenario; as you walk by a Zip Car; whether you are a subscriber to the car sharing service or not, your Chrome browser would ask you if you wish to head to the Zipcar.com website to reserve a car or learn more about the service. Think of it as a digital dousing rod on your path through life with the potential for more “heads down” behavior into your smartphone.

The story remains to be told on whether Apple relaxes its security practices around the way apps are woken up by beacons, how many beacons an application can support, or whether Facebook moves iBeacon support into the Messenger application which has more users with “push notifications” turned on. It’s still to early to say whether the Google or similar Samsung approach of a browser or client at the mobile operating system level will be the winner in consumer eyes for proximity based marketing, engagement or other automation.

Either way, we’re excited to see Facebook in the game of bringing contextual relevance to the masses. Lets just never let this become spam 2.0, OK?

Guest Author: Dave Mathews

Dave Mathews is founder and CEO of NewAer, the first proximity platform software that runs on Android, iOS, OSX and Windows enabling peer to peer discovery of devices on any supported radio as well as unpaired messaging between clients. More on his software as a beacon engine can be found at proximityplatform.com online. Dave is an expert in the machine-readable code space since his 1997 invention the CueCat, the first PC based Internet of Things (IoT) device. This PS/2 or USB tethered reader took any printed barcode and delivered users to specific websites automatically based upon their physical location, years before Location Based Services (LBS) and QR codes attempted the same for mobile phones.

5 thoughts on “Facebook: A New Game for Beacons? | Guest Post

  1. Great post. Notifications are already the way consumers know that they have a message or an email, without having to fire up an app. Driven by such experiences, the need to navigate through a screen full of app icons to open an app and experience it, doesn’t appeal much to consumers these days. They want a centralized experience where apps merely sit in the background and keep pushing relevant content forward. This is where proximity marketing using beacons comes into the picture. Another important point to note is that merely pushing irrelevant notifications could nudge your consumers to stop using the app or uninstalling it. Therefore it is very crucial for brands to be both context and location relevant. Moreover with more than $138M expected to flow into retail via beacons this year, it is critical that retailers experiment with new beacon UX in their efforts to convert occasional consumers or shoppers to year-round loyal consumers. We’ve discussed 3 beacon UX strategies that brands brands can benefit from here:


  2. David, the spammy notification of the Physical Web is a common misconception. We state very strongly on our introduction page on github that we will never buzz or beep at the user. They will *only* get a list of what’s nearby if they ask. This is critical for just the reason you point out: it would drive you crazy. Unlike iBeacon, which will do nothing until you’ve installed the app, the Physical Web will see everything, so we are very proactively protecting the user by only showing beacons when they ask. As to the quality of what you see, we also state the the app that shows the beacons nearby should never just show everything but also rank sites as well as remove spam.


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