nanxi-liuEnplug launched in April with $2.5 million in funding. Is it true that you were inspired to explore digital signage and intelligent displays because of Minority Report?

A little bit! When I saw it I remember thinking, that’s cool, we should create that!

Also, I spent some time in Asia and worked in Hong Kong, and there were digital signs everywhere. A lot of it wasn’t very compelling.

My cofounders and I wanted to work on a really difficult problem. Digital out-of-home advertising is old and it’s not very sexy, so we said, “let’s make it really interesting.”

On Enplug’s blog you say “we are transforming today’s digital displays from one-way communication channels to intelligent, two-way communication platforms.” Is that the sexy you’re talking about?

Yes! Right now if you stand in an elevator or shopping mall and you see these screens, all of them are showing you content. Sometimes they’ll show you traffic, weather reports, maybe stock prices. It’s not compelling. The user experience and interface look really ugly.

We enable viewers to engage and change their content using social media. Almost everyone has Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on their smartphones, and without having to download any applications, they can use those channels to post fun content on the screen instantly. That’s very transformative. It changes how people communicate in the physical world.

An Enplug digital display at the Southland Bar in California. Image via Enplug.

An Enplug digital display at the Southland Bar in California. Image via Enplug.

Any examples of how that plays out?

For example, at a bar in San Francisco, during the finals of a college basketball tournament people were posting things like, “Go Kentucky!” or “Go Wisconsin!” and having conversations between different tables using our screen as the mode of communication. This is the kind of thing that didn’t exist before.

Can you tell us about Enplug’s business model? You take a different approach than most digital signage companies.

Enplug's Photo Wall app allows business owners to display real time photo collages via Instagram.

Enplug’s Photo Wall app allows business owners to display real time photo collages via Instagram.

Traditionally, digital out-of-home companies pay the location to be there because they weren’t adding any value otherwise. Traditional digital signage companies only value one stakeholder – advertisers. They don’t give value to the viewers or the locations.

We wanted to create something that was valuable to all the stakeholders. Whereas other digital signage monetized with advertising, we wanted to create a screen that was so helpful and useful to the host venue that they would be willing to pay for it.

Our screen locations and venues pay a monthly fee to have our software, so it’s a compelling stream. What that means for advertisers is that if they’re showing up on the screen, they know it’s effective.

People are interacting with the screen and business owners are paying for it because they see value in it. I think that is very transformative for the advertising industry.

What about the risk of turning digital screens into social networks? What happens when angry customers use the screen to air their grievances?

Some locations don’t care about this – they want a more open dialogue. But for more conservative locations we give them the opportunity to filter the content.

We use automatic software that recognizes and does data analysis on the message, and if there’s something that slips through that, they can manually delete content on the screen.

Adding value through useful content is a big trend in content marketing, do you see ways out-of-home advertisers can be integrating value into the digital signage space?

It’s all about creating engaging content. From looking at traditional digital signage we know that traffic and news isn’t engaging. What is engaging is user-generated content.

We have advertisers that make games for our screens, for example. And all of the ads for our screens are native – they look like social media content, so it’s very much integrated.

Despite its name, social media is a relatively private experience. Are people ready for their conversations to be visible in the offline world?

We’re very careful and thoughtful about the places we go. We do it at places where it’s very social and makes sense.

Right now, social media is very individualized – you see it on your smartphone but nothing on a public display. I think it’s time to bridge online content into the physical world.

What Google is to the online world, we want to be for the offline world. We want to connect people.

In the next five to ten years, there will be a huge push to digitize the physical world, and in the U.S. in particular there’s still a lot of room for growth.

What Google is to the online world, we want to be for the offline world. We want to connect people.