I have now seen a number of NFC applications, and they all have something in common: they consider their tags as a private and exclusive property. They believe that they will be the only application using this tag. That may be true in some cases, where tags are deployed inside the premises of a company (think of tags to be scanned by security guards on every round, for instance). But in most cases, tags can hardly be considered as a private good. Let’s consider a few examples:
- A mailbox tag. La Poste and Connecthings put tags on mailboxes. So far, they have equipped the mailboxes in the streets of Paris, which are a property of La Poste. But what if they want to extend to private mailboxes? We can think of many applications, but many of them don’t belong to La Poste. Maybe that DHL or UPS would also like to use a mailbox tag?
- Tourist tags. Many cities have deployed NFC tags that allow tourists to get information about the site they are visiting. This is a very nice application, providing content to the public. Of course, we can imagine many uses for such tags beyond that: a trivial one would be to provide alternative information, for a more focused public; we could also imagine a city-wide multiplayer games, reusing these tags.
There are two main reasons that make these tags public goods:
- First, they are in a public space, accessible to many, and it is reasonable to expect that different people will expect different effects when scanning the same tag.
- Second, it doesn’t sound reasonable to use many tags for the same thing/location. The private mailbox example is the best here: having one NFC tag is acceptable, even for people who don’t plan to use it; having one for each delivery company is simply not acceptable.
The next question is: How to get there? Well, there are many possible ways, possibly complementary, and I will outline three:
- Design applications to use the content of a tag as identifier. Many private applications already do that today; the content of the tag simply is an index into their Web site, giving them some flexibility about the content to associate to each tag.
- Define a Web platform that will associate information about tags to user-selected mobile applications. That is the crucial part here. Once we have some kind of global identifier for tags, the next step is to asscoaite each tag to content. In a dream world, this aggregator role should be assumed by some kind of Google-like indexing company. Then, depending on the user’s preferences, scanning a tag would yield different results, as we don’t all want to do the same thing.
- Standardize a significant number of tag content, to make them available to many applications. In some cases, offline content can also be very useful, if it is standardized. For instance, location information can be a nice complement to a tourist tag, together with some canonical name to identify the location (chosen by the entity that installs the tag).
In such a context, the main value of a tag is to contain a small amount of verified, unambiguous information, which can then be used to link to more information (public or private), and/or to link it to applications. Here, considering tags as a public good, allows us to maximize the value that can be associated to them, and to provide more valuable services to users/citizens.
The missing link is here the open Web platform. I am still surprised today that I haven’t been able to find such a platform; if you know one, please let me know.