Fluid Nexus, a decentralized (peer-to-peer) mobile messaging application that runs over Bluetooth, promises to do for SMS what Napster did for the .mp3 – democratize a key distribution channel by decoupling the medium from the message.
But… while the technology was originally developed to enable such noble causes as citizen journalism, protest coordination and disaster relief management, it also opens up a host of novel and highly desirable marketing applications. Once again, the law of unintended consequences clearly applies, much to the delight of the marketing opportunist in us all.
The open source project is being led by Nick Knouf, with help from Bruno Vianna, Luis Ayuso, and Mónica Sánchez. The Fluid Nexus application, which is already available for Series 60 Symbian devices, was submitted in 1st Round of the Android Developer Challenge on April 14th.
What is it? Officially, Fluid Nexus describes itself as “an application for mobile phones that is primarily designed to enable activists to send messages and data amongst themselves independent of a centralized cellular network. The idea is to provide a means of communication between people when the centralized network has been shut down, either by the government during a time of unrest, or by nature due to a massive disaster.”
Basically, the application (installed locally on each handset – a key “mass market” barrier that we are putting aside for the time being) establishes an oxymoronic-sounding “Wide Range Personal Area Network” of sorts, with each mobile device accepting and rebroadcasting message data to other “network” nodes (i.e. people running Fluid Nexus on their mobiles) all operating over Bluetooth. The word “network” is in quotes because what you end up with is less of a traditional network (where each element in the system is connected to each other via a serial or matrix-level architecture), but rather a dynamic, evolving, almost organic system that can only be described as, well… “fluid.” This is due to the system’s reliance on Bluetooth, which (in addition to having the advantage of not needing connectivity to the wireless “grid”) is also usually limited (at least on a mobile phone, anyway) to a range of about thirty feet.
This is where things get interesting from a grad-school activist, postmodern hipster, technophile-in-waiting perspective. The application’s creators presume that “if we can use the fact that people still must move about the world, then we can use ideas from sneaker-nets to turn people into carriers of data. Given enough people, we can create fluid, temporary, ad-hoc networks that pass messages one person at a time, spreading out as a contagion and eventually reaching members of the group. This enables surreptitious communication via daily activity and relies on a fluid view of reality.” Surreptitious, indeed… and hats off for the twist on Sneaker Nets. Who knew floppies would somehow become relevant again?
Why Marketers Should Care. By now you may be asking yourself, “Well that’s all well and good… but where is the clutter-clearing, super-interesting marketing application I was promised?” Well for me, it all starts at the end of the application’s official description, where Mr. Knauf and company, in an abrupt and seemingly self-conscious reaction to the aforementioned high-minded phraseology, come down from the clouds and throw the pragmatists in the audience this juicy bone: “Additionally, Fluid Nexus can be used as a hyperlocal message board, loosely attached to physical locations.”
The low hanging fruit here is clearly in the event marketing space – where countless applications for the technology easily come to mind. From basic messaging and exclusive mobile invites to celebrity chats and innovative crowd games. With this approach a marketer wouldn’t have to worry about wireless network coverage (a problem that comes up more than you’d think). Other benefits to the technology (over existing mobile messaging channels) include exclusivity (be in the know), cost (once the app is downloaded use is basically free to both the marketer and consumers alike) and the ever intangible and equally elusive “buzz factor.”
And that’s just scraping the surface of message-based, event marketing approaches. This technology also would work well for P2P distribution of other forms of mobile media – such as audio, graphic and video files, opening the door to even more options. Retail executions bring even more excitement to the channel. Extend a branded activation into an urban space and all of the sudden you’ve got a living, breathing, viral distribution path that can scale across any sized market – neighborhood by neighborhood. Combining this technology with other forms of dynamic media, such as digital outdoor – or even good old fashioned radio – provides creative marketers with a whole new set of tools by which they can forge interesting and (hopefully) meaningful relationships between brands and consumers.
If it were only that simple. Obviously there are many reasons why this technology isn’t for every brand. For one, the application has basically zero install base – and getting consumers to download and install a mobile application is a challenging (yet not insurmountable) task. Also, peer-to-peer technologies (by design) are not easily controllable – by brands or anyone else – and are therefore not for the faint of heart. This is especially prescient in light of recent unfortunate (or absolutely hilarious – depending on your perspective) blow-back from poorly managed viral, CGC or P2P campaigns.
Fluid Nexus on Android Video Demo:
Fluid Nexus on Android from Nick Knouf on Vimeo.