I'd like to remind you that last week I've talked with Andrey Belozerov, Deputy Director of the Moscow IT Department. He outlined some of the achievements of the city in regards to the cyberspace - namely, web portals and applications that make the metropolis a little easier to live in. He also mentioned that the Russian capital is likely to have underground wi-fi access after all. And as far as above-ground navigation goes - well, they're working on a wikipedia-like web portal about historic buildings, sites and routes. And the cherry on top will be QR codes put all across town to link the real world with the digital one. The city is leading the nation in its efforts to digitize modern life it seems. And, of course, the IT department does not plan to stop improving the city or hog all the solutions. Here's what Mr. Belozerov has to say on the subject: [1min].
Now, I'm not sure if that's a result of the aforementioned collaboration or just a general trend, but at least two Russian cities are now looking to implement QR codes in order to facilitate cultural tourism. Exhibit A: Rostov-on-Don. The city plans to place 20 QR codes and link them to relevant information by the end of this year. Primary targets are historic buildings and monuments. This trial run will illustrate benefits and downsides and gauge their general popularity. If everything goes well, by 2018 - the year Russia hosts the soccer World Cup - the whole city will likely by covered by QR codes, making it easier to navigate and providing a glimpse into its history for foreign tourists. It's not just a gimmick for foreign guests that would like to learn city history, though. Businesses are likely to benefit from the initiative as well - thus business centers, cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues will all have these two-dimensional 'windows' to the cyberspace. Here's a quote from Sergei Smirnov, director of a Rostov Foundation "Applied Political Science": "Foreigners are used to this level of information awareness. What's this building? Is this a restaurant? What kind of cuisine does it offer? What about its price range and rating? Initially, we will make [the system] small-scale, so that people would be able get information about a building without going online." unquote He added that the six years before the Championship will give enough time to take care of all the issues and convince all the parties to get on board. After all, such a massive undertaking requires cooperation from the government, building owners and investors. The other city that announced last week plans to introduce QR codes on its streets was Tyumen. Again, initially it's the cultural objects that get all the attention. Last Friday the Puppet Theater became the first building in Tyumen to get the QR-treatment. By the end of this week two more buildings - the Philharmonic Hall and the Literary and Cultural Regional center - will install similar plaques. Currently the information is available only in Russia, but soon an English translation will be provided. The project "QR city" will also work akin to its brother in Moscow- QR codes will link to articles on a single website, which will be built like Wikipedia - anyone will be able to submit an article or a correction to guarantee not one little story is forgotten. It looks like this is a growing trend - and the aforementioned cities were not the first ones in Russia to realize its potential. The city of Samara, which will also host the 2018 World Cup, have started using QR codes on malls, streets and billboards earlier this year.
The guys over at Samara also ramping up interactivity - upon scanning a code a user will not only be offered relevant information, but also a chance to take relevant action - in case of billboards, one would be able to buy a ticket for a movie or a soccer match. St. Petersburg is also on the bandwagon - the Peterhof Palace located on the city outskirts has QR codes across its complex - they enable visitors to create on-the-fly 'guided tours', and enjoy audio and video data associated with each exhibit. The eastern part of Russia is slowly catching up with Altay region also launching their own QR code program this year - but like Rostov, it's mostly in the blueprint phase. Barnaul has designated 9 buildings to receive the codes later this year. Well, I guess that rounds it up for QR codes in Russia. What I really don't understand, however, is why the most known buildings are becoming the first ones to be added to the project. No, I mean, I do understand the logic, but I think it's flawed. Hey, look, that's the build that we all know and love - and probably tourists from other cities have heard about it too. We should slap a QR code on it and link it to media telling us what we probably know but maybe people will find something new. That's my take on the decision-making process. However, if the trial runs will determine the fate of the project for cities across Russia, shouldn't they be added to some of the more obscure objects and building, or rather something more down-to-earth. Culture is important, but, frankly, I don't see citizens who pass by a landmark every day suddenly stopping and scanning a QR code that has appeared there overnight. If it has to be a cultural object, why not make it something unknown - I would much rather scan a code on some obscure piece of art than, say, St. Basil's Catherdral - if I have to choose which object I would like to receive information on, it would be the one I know less about. And to make them even more popular, QR codes should be placed on what people actually rely upon during their daily routine - like public transit schedules and routes, for example. That's just my opinion. But anyway, rounding up - either due to Moscow giving a shining example of how to help citizens improve the city through electronic means, or just out of their own volition, more Russian cities are getting on with the times. By the way, not sure about other cities, but the Moscow IT department also has a regularly-updated Twitter account - and its managers do not shy away from engaging readers and building a constructive dialogue. Speaking of Twitter, there are some news regarding "the little bird that could".
Well, first of all, they've improved their promotional capabilities. Last week Twitter has rolled out an enhancement to Promoted Tweets that lets advertisers target specific users. This new feature lets advertisers send tweets to specific audiences without having to send their message to the whole twitterverse - which frankly, can fall on deaf ears. Advertisers using targeted tweets can choose their target by location, devices and platforms - this would be handy for small businesses targeting potential customers in the vicinity. Or large corporations can save budget and boost efficiency by tweeting links to media-heavy websites only to those users that are browsing through computer, not some flimsy smartphone. So I guess the company's doing well - advertisement is their primary, if not only, source of revenue, and the more efficient it is, the more companies will pay Twitter to advertise, helping keep it up and running.
Remember how I mentioned what was supposed to be the Russian answer to Twitter, Futubra? Launched several months ago, it started to rapidly lose steam - little was heard about it in the general blogosphere and it failed to become a household name, like Twitter, Facebook, VK or even Odnoklassniki. The developer, Mail.Ru Group, is now trying to reinvent the platform, it seems. It will practically force users to make their messages more appealing as each post will now have to include a photo or video. Developers have also changed the order in which messages are shown in the news feed, with latest replies on top - that means that if a subject is hotly debated you won't have to look for it down in your news feed. While a logical decision, this may guarantee that hot subjects will stay hot while fresh new media will fly 'below the radar' - I guess time will tell if the decision works out. Although Futubra was not positioned as a copy of Twitter – rather, an expansion of the microblogging idea, my guess is that people simply thought “why reinvent the bicycle?” and stuck with Twitter – or maybe it’s just me, personally, but I’ve found Futubra experience to be lacking. In fact, none of my real life friends that I communicate with through social networks were aware of Futubra’s existence. Maybe the new ‘global re-launch’ that’s currently unveiling will help Futubra find its way into hearts and bookmakrs of Russia’s bloggers. The bottom line is,members of Futubra’s development team said their goal was to turn their brainchild into a media forum where users will be able to share, collect and discuss pictures, videos and links.
And, to round up today’s program, a piece of news from the world of Twitter celebrities. Have you heard of the Glendale Bear also known as Glen Bearian? It’s the unofficial handle for a black bear who frequented the trash cans of Los Angeles suburbs in search of food for quite some time now. As is the fashion with celebrity animals, someone created an account for the fellow and by now amassed 25,000 readers. The downside? The bear has been tranquilized and relocated to his natural habitat as of last week, ending the debate over his fate – euthanasia or freedom to scare the locals. Hopefully the Twitter account’s owner will not suffer similar fate.