Poken in the wild

Just back home* from the second Tuesday tweetup (excellent event once again) with a grand total of zero high-fours (the Poken term for exchanging contact information).

Everyone at the Information on Demand conference (@IOD2009) was given a Poken, so if I’d been in Berlin recently, there would have been a massive captive audience of Poken users to high-four with. A conference seems like the natural environment for a Poken: lots of people with a common purpose all wanting to network, and multiple brands looking for a new piece of plastic to give away with their logo on.


Photo from “IBM Information On Demand 2009 Berlin with customized Poken” set by Ayman van Bregt (some rights reserved).

Unfortunately, as Andy has already mentioned in his Poken review, there just aren’t that many around. One glaringly obvious question is why it’s not possible to use mobile phones to do the same job, which is something almost everyone has already. Poken themselves saw that question coming and have a plausible answer about compatibility and usability but I think the shear number of Poken required before they are even half useful means a phone based solution must still be a strong contender. Using bluetooth couldeasily get round the problem of working out who even has a Poken, and there are ways to use it just as easily as a Poken. For example, the cityware digital co-presence project was pretty similar in lots of ways, using bluetooth device IDs combined with a Facebook application to manage contacts later, rather than beaming bluetooth contact information directly, and all without any awkward high-fouring. Obviously it also had its downsides, one of which was needing cityware nodes to log when devices were in the same place.

To earn a permanent place in my pocket, the Poken would have to deliver more, even if I never see another Poken. For a start, I’m just astounded that the Poken I have doesn’t even provide some simple USB drive storage. Or, to focus a bit more on the core purpose of a Poken, why not build it in to a business card holder? (Or a Moo card holder if you’re Andy!) Or even go the cityware route and log bluetooth device ids as well as other Poken contacts.

I still have my Poken with me but I don’t see them taking off in the wild for a long time, if at all. On the other hand, they are ideal for specific events and defined groups of people, such as employees for example, where I think there’s a lot of potential. A high-four is certainly far more natural than messing around trying to find some well hidden feature of your phone, especially if you know you aren’t going to be met with a blank look for suggesting high-fouring in the first place!

There’s more talk about Poken on Dogear Nation

* I didn’t actually get home this late, but half way through writing this post TalkTalk decided not to bother providing an internet connection for the second night in a row. It’s not going to take too much more of that before I disconnect from TalkTalk permanently.

Updated: …with a photo from IOD. (17 June 2009)

Update: More thoughts on Poken on Barry Leiba’s blog. (26 June 2009)

Update: Looks like a Poken might be trying to creep back in my pocket; the new Poken Pulse finally includes a 2GB USB drive! (2 October 2009)

Update: Interesting list of different ways to establish online connections from real world encounters, including the Poken. (8 July 2010)


4 thoughts on “Poken in the wild

  1. I\’m still pretty much convinced that you can\’t achieve this with cellphones from different operators, as they\’d all disagree what information to store, and want you to put your links on their proprietary social networks. I like the idea of building the device into a business card holder or something, but I guess the argument there is that the Poken itself \”should\” make business cards obsolete. The problem is definitely still one of market awareness, penetration and spread.

  2. You absolutely can use cellphones from different operators if you take the cityware/Poken approach and just log which bluetooth devices/Pokens have made contact. Both are effectively just an ID which you then track on a social software site. Cityware used a Facebook app, which makes a lot of sense, whereas Poken is nice in theory because it can tie together many of your online identities. Unfortunatley in practice Poken ask for my user IDs and passwords; thanks but no thanks.

    The problem of market awareness, penetration and spread is a huge one because until they solve it, the Poken in my pocket is just a large pointless keyring. Except, that is, if I’m ever in a Poken toting enclave like IOD.

  3. I’ve only just read up on what a “poken” is — but I tend to agree with James.

    My phone has earned it’s place in my pocket. I effectively take it everywhere. Virtually everyone has one. I don’t want another device to carry, charge, register etc.

    Clearly there’s an issue with standardization in terms of contact exchange but I think for a poken to get the mass adoption required, and mindset to be carried everywhere is a massive uphill struggle

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