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All digital social sites – from Facebook to flickr, from MySpace to that mother of all reality shape shifters, Second Life – have the potential to spill over into real life, while real life has taken its time to make an impact on people’s computers. At the April 2010 Internet Alliance (IA) Summit, Google presented research on the differences between online and real-world social networks called: Closing the gap between people’s online and real life social network. As the offline world is increasingly taking notice of and incorporating the omnipresent online world, the gap between consumers’ virtual and real lives has become wafer-thin and the two halves are becoming more and more permeable.

Background

Smartphones and netbooks are everywhere. The Blackberry. The cult of the iPhone, and now the iPad. Does anyone still leave the house without being connected to the internet? In offices and homes, when they are not actually working, consumers surf the internet, roaming shopping sites, always on the lookout for some new service, some new gadget, something to make their lives easier, more informed, more exciting. Over the past ten years many brands, services and consumers themselves, have discovered the potential in this pool of hungry users and placed their products right there where net freaks, researchers, housewives, lonely office workers and curious adolescents are looking for them.

You can drive my car

Virtual takes one giant leap closer to reality as Mitsubishi launches Live Drive – an online test-drive. Mitsubishi will allow US residents 18+ (with a driver’s license) to drive a real 2011 Outlander Sport around a test course right from the comfort of their squishy desk chair at home. This is made possible by rigging the car to respond to interactive remote controls via the internet. Live Drive is more than just a tour of the car’s specs and features. In addition to propelling Mitsubishi to the forefront, this innovative social media campaign will help Mitsubishi gauge consumer interest and develop sales leads. Mitsubishi is refusing to sit passively, waiting for consumers to come to them. Will the future of the automotive industry depend on bringing the test drive to the consumer?

Eating with friends

Fancy an oven-fresh croissant or cookie? Bakertweet.com works with new technology that alerts customers via Twitter any time a fresh batch of baked goods emerges from a participating bakery’s oven. Currently in prototype form at the Albion Cafe in London, the service could easily be duplicated to provide potential customers everywhere with up-to-the-minute information about all kinds of products. The internet is also a great help to Kogi Korean BBQ which sells its signature tacos through two trucks in the Los Angeles area. In order to know where to find them, customers follow Kogi on Twitter, and it is common for hundreds of Kogi’s 19,000+ Twitter friends to be socialising while awaiting their turn at the truck. Patrons at Wagaboo restaurants in Madrid and Barcelona can now reserve their own favourite table online, and an iPhone application developed for 7-Eleven Sweden combines a store locator with coupons for a free coffee and biscotti. After downloading the app, users plug in their phone number and receive a unique coupon code on their iPhone. To claim their coffee, they just show the code to a 7-Eleven clerk; no purchase necessary. In London, Konditor & Cook, cake makers supreme, added a cake modelled on the iPad to their range in August 2010. The brain-child of a TV executive, the cake is now available to the public with a 72 hour preparation time.

Put it in the post

Users of the BlueMailCentral.com site can send paper mail directly from their computers. After creating a document in Word, Outlook or any other application, customers click ‘print’ to send their file to one of BlueMailCentral’s printing partners, which prints the document and delivers it to its destination. On telegramstop.com, customers can compose classic-looking paper telegrams online – complete with the traditional and oh so nostalgic “stop” in place of full stops – which can be delivered, for a mere $4.70, to any country desired. In the UK, L-mail offers a service for delivering e-mails as letters, including Braille mail, worldwide from its 28 global printing and posting locations. United Internet, GMX, Web.de and Deutsche Telekom also offer services delivering e-mails in hard copy letter form.

Globalinternetusers
Online to offline

No longer the lonely geeks of public imagination, technology enables people who spend a lot of their time online to broaden their social lives. The photo-sharing site flickr has spawned hundreds of small local groups that meet up on a regular basis to take pictures together or just to socialise. As consumers’ lives are getting more flexible, social life is less about who you went to school with but instead about which tribes you belong to and which communities you participate in. As it becomes easier to connect with people online that share your interests, what’s to keep you from meeting face-to-face? Activities like couch-surfing, which brings together total strangers to stay overnight in each other’s living rooms, are only possibly thanks to the internet. And according to a 2010 survey from ExactTarget, a social media and email marketing company, 36% of Twitter users say they are seeing their friends more often now, with only 7% noting a decline in physical time together.

Outlook

It is inevitable that brands and chain stores will gradually jump on the mobile bandwagon and make use of the ubiquity, availability and willingness of the online consumer. The winners will be the ones with the fastest applications, the best offers and – let’s not forget – the best products.

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