How to Stimulate Social Interaction with RFID and NFC Technology

September 12, 2010

in Networking

Timo Arnall (web, twitter, linkedin) is a designer and researcher working with interactive products, media and emerging technologies, with a specific focus in Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and Near Field Communications (NFC).

After his recent presentation at Mobile Monday Amsterdam, we discussed on the use of RFID/NFC technology to stimulate social interaction during conferences, and how it compares to traditional [paper] business cards when it comes down to exchanging contact information.

Timo emphasizes that to stimulate successful social interaction through RFID or NFC technology, which usually requires the users to hold a physical object (an RFID tag like the Poken or Mediamatic’s iK tag, a NFC enabled mobile phone), you need to find activities that are simple and intuitive.

06 September 2010 - 18.00.19

Timo Arnall at Mobile Monday Amsterdam – Photo by Matt Cottam

He describes the RFID photo booth (description by Timo, description by Mediamatic) that has been used at PICNIC during the past years as a good example of a physical object that stimulates social interaction (disclaimer: I currently work for PICNIC but was not directly involved in the development of the photo booth, which happened prior to me joining the company). In short, you walk into the booth (also with other people),  you touch an icon, it takes a photograph and it tags you and your friends on the event’s social network.

“Very simple, no one really questioned how it worked. It provided an excuse to know other people”

Timo is particularly interested in the “between spaces” in conferences, like those that happen in between sessions when you meet other people. In order to further stimulate social interaction amongst the attendees, he suggests you find activities that don’t need full attention: “not full-on immersive games but stuff that you can do casually”. Using the technology (or the gadget that conveys it) shouldn’t be the main goal but a means to generate a specific behavior. It doesn’t have to interrupt but build on top of (a behavior).

RFID/NFC vs. Paper Business Cards

During the last decade, first with the Palm Pilot and now with the iPhone (+Android phones, etc) there’s been a splurge of apps that have been developed for exchanging contact information (like Bump), which should be a rather useful tool for conference goers. The truth is that they never clicked, except withing a few, highly homogeneous and geeky audiences (more on this topic coming in a further article).

According to Timo, with RFID gadgets (like Poken or RFID enabled phones) “it always feels a bit forced. I have a hard time believing that business cards are going to be replaced”.

Does this mean that digital interaction is doomed in the realm of [physical] events?

“I think the real incentive for doing digital interaction is doing something more than business cards. It’s doing something about media, entertainment, something that’s engaging, […] different and playful, not necessarily about the utility of exchanging information between people”.

Watch the interview with Timo Arnall:

I apologize for the disturbing background noise, I didn’t have an external microphone available (my bad). Since then I have updated my gear by adding a Sennheiser MKE-400 shotgun microphone to my video camera. I hope that future videos will positively benefit from it.

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