It’s rare to play a role in the creation of something which leads to something better which then leads to something great. To experience this type of success is nothing short of amazing. I feel extremely lucky to have experienced the domino effect of a positive discovery or creation multiple times in my life. In the last year I’ve told the story of one such adventure to several people. A common response that I’ve heard is that it’s a great story and that I should tell it to more people. Last week I was reminded of the experience again and so I figured it’s time to write it down.
Successes Start in the Strangest Places
In early 2009 I was working for Wolfmotell when I began a great adventure. It started with the Superbowl. GE ran an ad about the smart grid. I looked online to learn more about what the smart grid was. What I found began a great adventure. On the GE smart grid website, I experienced something new; Augmented Reality. The next day I shared the experience with my coworkers. I brought it to the developers and exclaimed that they had to learn how to make this type of amazing experience. I knew it was going to be hot and that we would use it somewhere.
Winning is Just the Beginning
A month or so later, Keith Wolf and I were in Austin, TX for SXSW. While there we visited the Circus Mashimus lounge, which was hosted by Mashery and a few of their clients including Best Buy. Mashery helps companies share their data through an application programing interface or API. Wolfmotell had been doing work with Best Buy for years and I had spent a couple of years working there as a contractor before joining Wolfmotell. Recently, Wolfmotell had been developing product finder tools for Bestbuy.com using Best Buy’s new API, Remix. While working on one of those projects I did what I could to learn about APIs, especially Best Buy’s Remix. During this education I had an idea for a fun way to use the Best Buy data. I partnered with a lead developer at the agency and we used some Lab Time, or what some companies call twenty percent time, to turn my idea into reality. The idea was simple. Best Buy sells games. Some of the passionate people who buy games will order a game before it is even released. Best Buy calls this pre-order. Products which are available for pre-order are noted so in the Remix data. My idea was to inform those passionate gamers as soon as a new game became available for pre-order using Twitter. The way we did it was to pull a list of all games available for pre-order and then pull the list again the next day. The lists were then compared and any differences were products which were newly available for pre-order. These products were then sorted based on the gaming system and pushed out using the Twitter API. I had created a separate Twitter account for Sony Playstation 3, PSP, Nintendo Wii, DS and Microsoft Xbox 360. This way gamers could subscribe and choose to be notified about pre-order games for their preferred system. I brought this little side project to the attention of the Mashery and Best Buy representatives in the Circus Mashimus lounge. They suggested that I enter it into a contest which they were holding related to the Circus Mashimus lounge. They were asking developers to do something cool with their clients APIs. They had a prize for each of the select clients APIs as well as a grand prize for whoever could mash any two of the client APIs together to create a cool mash-up app. On our flight back from SXSW Keith and I decided that we should enter the pre-order/Twitter app into the contest but also come up with killer second entry in hopes that we could win the grand prize. Back in the office, the brainstorming began and I knew it was time for augmented reality. Once the ideas were pruned the designers and developers whipped together something amazing in a very short period of time. The result was a fun little web app, called Popscopic, which pulled data from the Billboard charts API as well as Best Buy Remix. The top ten music, movies and games were pulled from Billboard and those titles were then used to pull product details from Best Buy. Popscopic used augmented reality to display the product images, titles, price and customer rating. As an additional bonus Popscopic utilized gestural navigation as a method of toggling between titles and selecting one for purchase. Wolfmotell entered both Popscopic and the pre-order/twitter app into the Circus Mashimus contest; one under my name and one under Keith’s name. Needless to say, both of them won. Popscopic won the grand prize and the other won for Best Buy.
Winning Leads to Business
A few months later there was a knock at the Wolfmotell door. Some people from Best Buy wanted to talk to us about augmented reality. They wanted to engage their tech-savvy customers who weren’t likely purchasing newspapers and thus not seeing the Best Buy weekly newspaper insert. They thought that augmented reality might be a way to get these customers to revisit the insert. We presented a few ideas and quickly began work on the client’s choice. On Sunday, August 8th 2009 an insert featuring an A.R. marker on the cover was sent out to Best Buy’s circulation of 43 million. That day about 6500 tried the experience and approximately 12% of those who tried it clicked through to the promoted Best Buy products or services. The experience received a lot of press and was considered a success and a month later we created a second experience in partnership with Best Buy and Sony. That experience, which included a coupon, also resulted in a worthwhile conversion. The agency went on to produce additional work for Best Buy as well as additional augmented reality experiences.