March 15, 2010, 11:37 AM — The Outer Web. What does that mean?
I heard the term for the first time at an "Augmented Reality" panel here at the Austin Convention Center today, and thought it to be a nifty handle for a technology that'll probably be big in the near future. It's also a clever way of looking at what augmented reality, or "AR" might mean.
Augmented reality refers to technology (mobile devices, in-windshield displays, etc.) that can overlay information from the Web on top of objects in the real world. Point your iPhone up at a tall building, and your augmented reality mobile app will overlay all kinds of information about the building (what's inside it, it's history, whatever) its image seen on the screen of your mobile device.
So the term 'outer Web' means the extension of the information outside the normal confines of broadband networks and into the real world, mainly via the screens of wirelessly-connected mobile devices. That idea is on a lot of app developers' minds here at the conference.
Augmented reality (AR) is not a new concept. Mobile apps like the one described above have been available for some time now, and one good example is Layar, which runs on the iPhone and Google's Android. The Gartner Group said way back in May 2008 that AR would be one of the top ten most disruptive technologies between 2008 and 2012.
During the panel here I saw numerous applications of AR that are happening already today. There were a couple of applications that seemed true to the concept and actually useful. But I was surprised at how many of the uses cases I saw were "augmented reality" in name only, and mostly smoke and mirrors.
Yes, there is a little bit of snake oil salesmanship going on among AR technology companies as they try to find a place for the concept in the real world. Remember how ad agency people a few years ago were falling all over themselves to get the major brands some space in Second Life. You know, just to get in on the ground floor of something that's going to be HUGE? Well the same thing will happen with augmented reality, or the Outer Web, if you will.
Lego has made new boxes for its products that, when held up to a computer with a webcam, show the contents inside the box in 3D. That could have been done just as easily with a Flash video.
The presenter here expected oohs and aahs when she showed a kiosk at a hockey rink that displayed an image of the person standing in front of it with a team hockey helmet on their head. Whatever. That's just a webcam trick, not really AR.