Image by Chris Ford

A proximity-based Twitter using beacons

May 10, 2014

Over the last couple of months I have spent most of my time exploring the exciting world of beacons. Although it has not always been a breeze, I'm a true believer they will soon have a big impact on our lives and change it for the better. As I have been thinking a lot about where and how they could be employed, I thought it would be interesting to share some idea I had on using beacons for creating some kind of proximity-based Twitter.
  • Ever been in the situation that you wanted to reach out to the people in your direct vicinity? Like, for instance, when you are in a bar and want to share a taxi back home. Or, imagine you are on the train and want to pose a question to your fellow travelers. Using beacons, this proximity-based way of communicating becomes possible and this at a much fine-grained level than ever possible with geolocation.

    First things first, what are beacons? Well, beacons are small and low cost devices perpetually broadcasting a simple data signal using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). This signal can reach from 5cm up to 70m, and with only a simple coin cell battery, a beacon is said to last up to 1 year. When recent smartphones detect such signal, they can calculate the distance relative to the beacon and react upon appropriately. This is a very simple technology, yet so powerful.

  • Beacons make mobile truly mobile and form the missing link between technology and the physical world around us
  • With beacons, a new world of exciting opportunities arises. So far everyone is hipped about what they can mean for retail and marketing, but much more awesomeness can definitely be added to that.

    One idea I had is to use beacons for creating a proximity-based Twitter. The power herein would be that content is only shared with the people in your direct vicinity and thus only relevant at that moment in time. People simply come and go, and as they walk along, they are able to interact with one another. The exact position doesn't matter, only the proximity relative to each other does.

    Although the idea is far from new, using beacons, the experience will be much better than relying on geolocation. People will be able to interact with each other on a moving train or, for instance, on different floors within a building. This is about proximity, not location.

  • Image by Jonathan Nalder
  • To bring this proximity-based Twitter to reality, people should carry a beacon that allows to identify themselves. In an ideal world, smartphones would be able to both broadcast and receive beacons' signals simultaneously, but currently this is not (yet) possible. Therefore, as beacons are so small and compact, they can be easily carried around, for instance, as a key chain in your pocket. Every beacon broadcasts a specific major and minor combination and matches a unique user's account. When detecting someone's presence based on the received beacon's signal, this combination together with all proximity information is sent to the cloud where all tweets are tight up and pushed back to the user.

    One may probably wonder: what about privacy? Will people be able to track down my identity by ranging for beacons? The answer is no. Beacons only broadcast very simple data, holding absolutely no information about the corresponding user. All it broadcasts is a unique major and minor combination, only possible to be associated to a certain user inside the dedicated cloud. Beacons can also be turned off, stopping any data from being broadcasted.

    Although the idea is probably hard to execute in reality, I think it is a nice thought on how beacons could be used for much more than only retail and marketing. Beacons make mobile truly mobile and form the missing link between technology and the physical world around us. Interesting use-cases will start to surround us and I can't wait to explore them.

    The future is awesome.