WorkSnug – is Augmented Reality really the best way to find a desk?

The web is full of location-based startups at the moment, struggling to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. WorkSnug seems to be one of them, pitching itself as a way for the modern “urban nomad” to find places to work. I have been in this situation myself a few times – time to kill in an unfamiliar location and looking for somewhere to plop down with a laptop and a decent coffee (and ideally a network connection) so I guess the basic idea has value.

However, the approach taken by WorkSnug seems odd, and somewhat flawed. They make a big deal of the Augmented Reality nature of their service – the ability to “look through” an iPhone screen and see labels on nearby buildings indicating the location of likely workplaces. This is just a crazy way to approach the problem. Think about it. To successfully find this sort of location using this sort of interface will only work when all of the following things are true:

  • the mobile device knows the current location
  • the mobile device knows the current direction (in 3D space, it seems!) of view
  • workplaces in the local area are registered with the system
  • the user is looking in a direction where there are registered workplaces
  • the user is near enough to registered workplaces that they can be projected on nearby architecture

Arguably the hardware and infrastructure may be able to provide the first two of those conditions, and in the (unlikely?) case that the service takes off then we might achieve the third point. But the last two are the killers. Are the WorkSnug folks really imagining streets filled with laptop-carrying execs twirling like dancers while holding their iPhones aloft just on the off-chance that they might catch a glimpse of an office with a spare desk?

Fundamentally it’s a problem with data density. In areas so densely packed with eligible workspaces that they might be visible using such an AR approach, finding one is not really a problem and the solution is not very valuable. It’s in the areas where working space is harder to find (suburbs, small towns, rural areas, industral areas, …) that this kind of service has value, but these situations are exactly the ones where Augmented Reality makes no sense.

By all means run a registry of workplaces, and show them on a map with details of how to get there, but give up on the AR, please.

Oh, and also give up on the pretending that the service is busy by scrolling a bunch of pregenerated activity messages on the home page. It’s been many times before and just makes the creators of the service look like liars and charlatans.

3 Comments

  1. Ah the joys of the Google Alert…

    Hi Frank. Just read this piece on WorkSnug, much of which is simply your view and is probably not worth directly challenging. However I’d like to point out that our activity feed is not pregenerated. All of it is entirely real (go on, do a weird search and watch it appear a few seconds later – but let’s keep it clean please!). We have made the decision to put the thing on a loop if sufficient new activity isn’t registered in the period – That was my call based on pre-launch paranoia that we wouldn’t get sufficient activity – But in the event we’re getting plenty and taking the loop off is something we’ll be doing very soon – Our web team is busy with various elements to take us out of Beta, of which that is one part.

    In addition, you should note that we recently launched a non-AR product for the iPod Touch, 3G iPhone and will soon launch a non-AR Blackberry product. We don’t hang our hat on AR particularly, our value is in our data, but our view is that it represents a great way of cutting through the complexity of the cityscape and our customers give us excellent feedback.

    Thanks
    Richard Leyland
    Founder, WorkSnug.

  2. Richard,

    Thanks for taking the time to write a comment. As I wrote in my original post, I still like the basic idea of a service for locating workspace even though I view the AR aspects as a pointless gimmick.

    As for looping to simulate activity I hold by my concern that doing so harms your credibility. By all means do what you can to celebrate the activity you have, in the same way that many restaurants will ask early patrons to sit in a window to show that the place is open and in use. Looping canned data is akin to placing cardboard cut-out customers in the restaurant window – hardly likely to reassure passing trade!

    And good luck with your business. I’d love for you to prove my concerns wrong!

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