The Rise of Local: The Meaning of Context

Image that you are looking for a restaurant and you go on the Internet to find a good place to eat. Go to any restaurant website and you will get restaurants categorized by food type, prices, ratings and location. You can browse though some reviews by customers and see menus and wine lists. You can view pictures of the interior and see video interviews with the hosts. This sounds just fine, but then add another factor. Image that you are actually downtown (your favorite city) and you want to eat now. Furthermore, you are using your mobile and you’re really not ready to browse all night. What you really need is a place close by that sells pizza or burgers and has decent wines. You need local results that fits the context you are in at this very moment. Localization is all about the meaning of context.

It turns out that with multiple of devices, people are in different situation when using web sites. This is what we call context, and the technical term is Context Aware Computing or CAC. When one user is sitting at home with their laptops, taking time to find some content on the Internet, another one is looking for answers relative to the place he or she is in. This is however not limited to a specific place. Mobile apps can also factor in the time of day, what type of day (workday, weekend, or holiday), your surrounding (are you in a mall, or at a football game, or in a casino). It can also be based on data about you – your digital profile. This profile determines who you are, it is based on data you leave behind, your digital trail, your searches, the pages you visit, the pages you share, your recommendations, comments, your tweets, your Facebook information, and so on. With services based on your profile, apps can utilize a context that is local to you.

With this local personal context, the restaurant app might even suggest 2-3 places that you might like. All you need to do is to ask it to find a place. If it is early in the day, it might suggest some cafés, while in the afternoon a bar might be a better choice. And of course it knows that you never go to fast food joints or a place that does not have wireless Internet.

You see this type of localization on the web also. When searching for restaurants Google will come back with local restaurants and a map to find them. Google knows where your IP address comes from and can pinpoint your city. Mobiles are much more precise. With GPS, the mobile can pinpoint the street you are standing on. This is where the context becomes relevant. A person with a mobile is, in most cases, probably looking for different things that a person using a laptop. Instead of every restaurant in town, you only want the ones near. For choices, like price and food type,  you want them simple and clear, without any clutter. Instead of customer reviews you just want the rating.

Another example is sports betting. Let’s say you open a sports betting site. If browsing on a computer, you might be interested in statistics about soccer teams, videos of goals and all the gossip about the players. On a Saturday, with a mobile, the sports betting app knows you are going to place a bet on some games in the English Premier League. It knows what team you follow and the bet types you like. First choice is to place a bet on your favorite team. If you are actually at a soccer stadium somewhere, that game might also be a choice. Placing a bet is relevant and easy and over in few seconds.

For the last few years, one of the trends in web design is the concept of responsive web design. With this design idea, the web site displays nicely in different sizes of screen. Web site might be 4 columns in a typical desktop web browser, while a horizontal tablet uses 3 and vertical tablet 2, and mobile 1. The same web page in all cases, no need for a specific mobile version or specific tablet version. While this maybe the greatest idea ever, it totally ignores the context of the user.

In the coming years we will see more focus on Local (the Lo part of SoLoMo). We will see more apps that use information from the environment, from the user, and from social media and information sites, to create experience for the user. We will see trials with successes and failures, with some companies finding something that works while others cause privacy concerns and even anger. As we move on, solutions will appear that actually works for users. So, when I’m standing on a street corner downtown Reykjavík in the afternoon on Thursday, and I need a place with WiFi to write an article about technology trends, my phone knows where I want to go. And it has already checked that I will like the glass of wine they have.