The Discovery Economy: Why Sharing Your Identity Is A Good Thing

One of the worries about near field communication-enabled tech is that private data could be remotely snooped and used for evil. But the truth is that we may be volunteering info by NFC soon enough. And in the process, we’ll find things we never knew we wanted.



At last month’s Coachella a lot more went down than grooving in the fields of Indio. The hot-ticket festival’s organizers tested out smart radio chip-embedded armbands that let music lovers automatically verify their ticket by “checking in” at digital gates. But those armbands were much more than hard-to-fake entry passes: They were Coachella showing us a near future where we voluntarily share a touch of personal information, your digital DNA if you like, to discover a whole raft of new information and experiences.

About 30,000 people used their radio-chip-embedded armbands to check in (or “Live Click”) all around Coachella and automatically update their Facebook status and post updates to their various social media about what they were doing and who they were seeing perform. For Coachella, it meant the online audience grew exponentially–to more than 30 million people, festival organizers announced. The armbands were just an experiment, and the plan is to perhaps expand their powers and let them act as cashless payment systems in the future.

The radio-chip pass has been tried before, on a much smaller scale at a Belgian music festival where NFC-embedded festival passes let fans make Facebook friends simply by holding their passes over a check-in portal. There were also games, unlockable digital media bonuses, and even a group photo booth.


And this weekend Tagstand, a Y Combinator-funded forerunner in the real-world NFC “tagging” game, is supplying its tech to 3,500 attendees of a black tie bash in New York where partygoers will be able to use their NFC wristbands to tap on a portal to send a tweet, post photos to Facebook, and even register their NFC “check-in” for the cocktails they’re drinking, in order to get the ingredients sent to them afterwards.

This all adds up to far more than just a way to digitally say, “Yes, I’ve got a valid Coachella ticket” or “Please send a tweet for me saying I’m listening to Pulp play ‘Common People,'” or even “Yes, this is my credit card number.” It’s a key to discover more information.

Tagstand’s trick of sharing cocktail ingredients is a great example. By saying “Yes, I’d like to know,” you’re sharing your personal information with the venue: You’re associating your digital profile with a particular choice, which will help the organization understand what its patrons prefer–that’s one reason why events, stores, banks, and others want to get access to your data in the future. The trade-off being offered is additional information that you didn’t know before–discovery.

We’re not talking about a privacy-violating sharing experience–giving away your entire identity, SSN, kids’ names, and inside-leg measurement. It’ll be similar to data you volunteer for marketing purposes nowadays–perhaps an email address, or a phone number in most cases, or a social media handle for media-rich sharing purposes. Eventually, for entities that you trust, you’ll give away a few more personal details or data on your preferences.


Picture a music festival in five years’ time when instead of a wristband you’ll wave your smartphone at a wireless portal, and an app you’ve pre-set to share particular pieces of personal info (perhaps age, gender, and so on) communicates with the festival’s computer. In return it sends a promotional tweet and you’ll get a free ringtone to promote the upcoming single of the band you’re listening to or an invite to a streaming music service where the band has created a playlist of artists you might like.


Then think about social events, or perhaps even technology conferences, where attendees will voluntarily check in using their NFC ID and share even more information (perhaps a contact email address or Twitter ID) in order to “unlock” suggestions about talks to attend, supported by adverts, or even a suggestion of interesting people they may find it useful to talk to–along with a general suggestion of their location.

A music festival, being inherently a shared experience, is an obvious first stop for this kind of tech. Things will get interesting when we see it in other venues–and discover that the beat just goes on.

[Image: Flickr user DeepBluC]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)