Making Messaging more Meaningful

On: September 15, 2014
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About Evelien Christiaanse


Amidst these times of social media revolution with new apps being developed constantly, there has been a clear counter movement. A drive towards local (local brews vs imports), towards meeting people (LinkedIn vs Seats2Meet) and a longing for experiences.

Traces, launched in the beginning of August in the UK, is an app that strives to link social media with experiences through augmented reality. Users can send a message to a friend who has to ‘pick it up’ in a specific geographic location before the message expires. Check out this video to see how it works (there is no sound).

Traces was developed by a neuroscientist, Beau Lotto, who strives to make human communication more meaningful by adding context to the conversation. A lot of his research has to do with illusions and how we see the world. After watching his Ted Talk (a fun watch) it is clear that he believes that context is everything in how we understand the world around us. Even though we’re in a digital world, we’re still humans who have evolved along specific ways to communicate. Messaging should reflect that.

Context in Conversation
In the Ted talk about optical illusions and how we see “Context is everything…” using examples of how we perceive the world through our sense of vision. Lotto continues to show us how the context influences how we receive a message:

“What you see is grounded in your history: your brain takes information which is meaningless and it makes it meaningful. The way it makes it meaningful is by literally engaging with the world, with the physical world around you and associating what you see now with what you saw in the past. A lot of messaging, like Google Glass etc, is about information but the brain’s indifferent to that, it doesn’t know what to do with it. What it really wants is something meaningful. History, location, people you care about – those are the things that make it meaningful for the brain.”

Humans are animals (who seem to forget that every now and again). Everything we know about anything is told to us through our senses. Since we know that we should cater to it. Messaging with added meaning, like location, should make the communication between two people more meaningful than a message received in a ‘passive‘ way (being read off a screen).

There are so many creative ways to use this app:
Scavenger hunt around town to teach history
Use instead of or in addition to tourist information signs
Show renderings/plans at construction sites
Botanical information along a trail
Share experiences instead of pictures “Check out this view”

Future of Traces
I see this app could go several ways. First, as a fun way to send a special message. I imagine that the first Traces proposal will surface any day now. I don’t think that Traces will replace all messaging, simply because we won’t take the time to go travel to the message. Unless the sender knows your basic daily schedule and puts a Trace in your way, this type of messaging will be time consuming, and our time is precious. So although any messages sent and received using Traces will be reprieved as such, convince will go above the context.
Secondly, I that the marketing world will hijack this idea and change the app from a fun, scavenger-hunt like way of messaging to the next way to get ads. I see “Sponsored traces” hovering in the screen while searching for the Trace sent by a friend.
Finally, that the app becomes a sort of novelty.

Are we really such non-communicative screen zombies as Lotto makes us out to be?
Maybe, but isn’t it important that someone is creating new ways to communicate with neuroscience in mind (pun intended)?

Get it
For now the app is only available in the UK for iOS devices and you can add your email to receive a notification once the app rolls out worldwide and for Android.

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