Last week the city of San Francisco accepted a joint bid from Google and Earthlink to bring universal wireless access, or “Wi-Fi” to that city by the bay. Residents will be able to log in wirelessly to the Internet from home, work, cable car, or wherever. San Francisco is among the first cities of a number going “muniwireless”- that is, citywide free Wi-Fi; Philadelphia has already cut a similar deal with Earthlink, while Austin, Boston, and Chicago have also announced plans to do the same. I believe this trend will continue and foresee the spread of Wi-Fi connection to most cities in upcoming years.
This endeavor, a pet project of San Francisco’s mayor Gavin Newsom, is good for his career and, more importantly, good for San Francisco. The civic adoption of universal Wi-Fi is rather progressive as it tackles a hi-tech social issue by providing Internet access for all. I truly believe this to be a kind act and, additionally, believe San Francisco’s stature in the tech community will be greatly enhanced. Let’s not hold our breath waiting for free laptops, however.
It’s fun to work in online advertising because brainstorming is a natural part of the job. When industry announcements are made water cooler chit-chat inevitably leads to idea formation. In this particular case we know that San Franciscans are all for it, but what will this mean for Google and Earthlink, who are providing the Wi-Fi free of charge? The consensus: plenty. Their service, while donated, also serves as terrific PR and quite possibly an opportunity for future business. As a provider of advertising, Google is on to something good.
Not only does this announcement add the word “muniwireless” to my vocabulary, but it may show us how personalized search can be. A co-worker at ConductSearch.com stunned me by pointing out that this Wi-Fi could conceivably deliver search ads that would be relevant to the very city block you’re logged in from. Contemplate the possibilities.
Thanks to signal boosters every few blocks and a mandatory Google sign-in (no shocker there) they’ve got your location covered. Some are crying foul and citing Big Brother tactics. I disagree. Free Internet access is not a guaranteed right and if electing to take advantage of this offering means logging into a service under reasonable conditions, well, so be it. At best, detractors come off as misguided; at worst, ungrateful.
Some critics of this free buffet are even turning up their noses at the fare. While Wi-Fi is that much better than dial up (Google says the free connection will be about 300 kilobits per second), it’s not quite broadband. And this too, apparently, has ruffled a few feathers. Whether it’s a free lunch or just a snack, just enjoy it already.
For those of us who can live with free Wi-Fi here’s an example of how local advertisers will be able to tailor ads to meet their opportunities: It’s a beautiful Saturday in the park, you know, the kind that makes everyone feel like a kid again. At some point the proprietor of a nearby ice cream parlor, call it “Biggie’s”, realizes his ice cream sales aren’t justifying the foot traffic he sees outside.
An idea comes to our good-humored purveyor and he takes action by accessing Google’s localized search. It takes only a few minutes to create and run an ad over the local platform that reads: “Today only: 2 for 1 Ice Creams at Biggie’s Ice Cream Parlor. 2-5 PM, All Welcome”.
The only thing that will keep the crowds from his business is a rain storm. Not only would park goers with online access via laptop or handheld device see these personally relevant ads, but they’d be sure to spread the word. As a buzz is built in the park Biggie’s Ice Cream will have a big day. Targeted and effective local advertising like this should be a hallmark of muniwireless cities in years to come. Good for San Francisco. I hope it comes to New York soon.
Director of Marketing