Q & A with Dave Elchoness on TagWhat

A few weeks ago we featured a short piece about the startup TagWhat in our Travel Trends series.  Since then, we have seen a lot of interest in this new AR application…not to mention quite a few beta access requests.  With the official launch of TagWhat this week, we thought it was a good time to catch up with Dave Elchoness and talk AR, travel and the future of the phone.

Dave, enlighten us on the wonder that is AR.

Give us the elevator pitch on Tagwhat.

Tagwhat is the ultimate convergence of mobile, augmented reality, and location based social services.  It’s “create-and-share mobile AR” – the world’s first mobile augmented reality creation and distribution system.

What makes Tagwhat different? It’s both on-line and mobile.  With on-line map driven and mobile AR, everyone can create and share, globally, in Tagwhat.  It’s interactive.  Unlike other so-called AR browsers, Tagwhat is a communication system for creating tags to communicate with others.  It’s a personalized global view.  Following others in Tagwhat merges worldwide maps and AR experiences from trusted friends and followers into your own global view that evolves uniquely for you.

Tagwhat is not simply AR as we’ve known it. It’s a new distribution system for augmenting the world around you through unique, personalized AR experiences.

And, if you would, define Augmented Reality for my mom…how would you explain AR to her?

This is how I described it to my mom:  Today, if you want information, you go to your computer and surf the web.  But we know that most information on the web relates to places like: where a business is and directions to get there, an old photo of a stadium before it was taken down, a restaurant review, or coupons for products sold at a supermarket.  Augmented reality allows you to take that stuff on the web with you as you are mobile and put it at the place where it belongs.  You become ‘augment reality’, rather than going to a computer to look there.

So imagine holding up your mobile in the supermarket parking lot and being able to see over the building itself a bubble (just like a comic book) with information about events, store hours,  coupons for products, or even a video of a chef making a new recipe that you can try out…  The bubble that appears in that context is augmented reality – an enhancement of your reality from the web.  We call the bubbles ‘tags’ and creating them ‘tagging.’

In the travel and tourism context, useful AR might include relevant information about the destination and its history, city tours, activities, restaurant reviews and discounts, or where to find an ATM.  Tagwhat lets you access all this information in mobile augmented reality while you’re out and about, and can even give you turn-by-turn directions to every tag from your exact location.

How has the development of AR in the last few years allowed for an application such as Tagwhat?

Combining mobile, augmented reality, and social networking, Tagwhat is the result of some major recent changes in technology.  Now that many devices include GPS, compass, and camera, location based augmented reality is possible.  Without any of these critical elements augmented reality cannot happen.  In terms of social networking, we started off with simple blogs with comments.  Now, Facebook and Twitter have gotten so popular that people accept this sort of socialization for business and pleasure.  Tagwhat takes that social networking and introduces it to AR for a unique place-based interactive experience.

What is the experience like when interacting with Tagwhat?

Unlike lots of other products, including AR applications, we have both an on-line and a mobile interface.  This means that you can place your own AR and interact with the AR of others no matter where you are in the world.  So, imagine browsing the AR tags at your travel destination from your home so that you can plan what to see before you arrive.  Or leaving virtual notes for yourself at your destination so you know where you’re going and exactly how to get there when you’re on your trip.  You can even tag your favorite restaurant in Tokyo for your friend who’s visiting there, and they’ll be able to click to get directions and read about your favorite dishes on the way there.

On-line, it’s as easy as clicking on a map where you want to tag, and typing in the contents.

In the mobile, you see AR by holding up your device.  You can create a tag by choosing a location from a list and typing in the message.  You can see more tag detail by tapping the AR tag.

We’ve tried to keep this very easy for people to use and enjoy.

What has the beta reaction been?

Very positive.  We’ve tried to create practical AR that is easy to use, and the feedback is that we’ve achieved it.

Is AR and Tagwhat a technology or application that is easily understood once put into use?

Yes we use analogies to explain the technology, which helps in the explanation.  But the technology just makes sense:  putting the web around us rather than at a computer.  Holding up the mobile phone to retrieve contextual information about the world around us.  Tagwhat adds social elements, like following people who interest you and bringing their AR into your overall view, commenting, messaging.  People ‘get it’ and enjoy it.

What uses do you see for Tagwhat and AR in the next few years?

We’ve identified a number of very compelling verticals for us including travel and tourism, retail, real estate, education, and more.  We hope to bring in lots of individual users, but also ‘channels’ which will be branded accounts that users will be able to toggle on and off, thereby merging that AR data into their own.  For example, in addition to Wikipedia, Eat (for restaurants), Drink (for nightlife), and Foursquare, we will soon have channels branded for IBM.  We will be announcing many more in the near future.

Specifically, how does Tagwhat fit into the travel space?  How do you envision Joe Tourist using the application?

I think Tagwhat is a great fit for travel.  Let’s look at it in two stages.  Trip planning and travel.

In terms of trip planning, the consumer can use the Tagwhat on-line map to identify and tag things that she wants to see and do at her destination.  She can even follow locals in Tagwhat so she can benefit from what they’ve tagged at the destination.

Then, when she’s there, she will have a complete augmented reality experience to draw from at the destination.  It’s like she’s created her own mobile augmented reality application for her trip.

Add in channels sponsored by tourism companies, resorts, travel bureaus and the like, and visitors have a complete experience, including perhaps city tours, restaurant reviews, mobile coupons, ideas for activities right in the mobile device.  The beauty of it all is that you get all of this information AND the opinions of all your friends mixed together, so you can pick and choose what to see and who to listen to.

Finally, what does your mobile device look like 3 years from now?

The device is faster, images are sharper, you’ll be able to more easily interact with it by voice. Location based augmented reality will be something we take for granted like we do Facebook or Twitter today.  We’re also more likely to use iPad-like devices with large screens to see vivid AR everywhere we go.  Hold up the device and take in just about anything you want from information, to discounts, to virtual gifts.  We truly feel that mobile augmented reality is going to completely revolutionize the way we interact with the internet, our surroundings, and each other.  It’s an intuitive and effective way to experience information and communicate with the world, and we think Tagwhat is going to make it a reality.

Our thanks to Dave for taking the time out of his very busy schedule for the interview, most appreciated.  Kudos to the entire TagWhat team on a successful launch and a great AR application.

Check out TagWhat online or via your phone and start augmenting your reality.

Thoughts, comments or questions about TagWhat? Let us know in the comments.

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