Traces app

Can new social media app traces bring us closer together?

I am, admittedly, one of these social media (SoMe) sceptics. I’m sure we’ve all been part of the same conversations theorising what impact SoMe has had on our personal relationships. We no longer need to meet in person to catch up, we feel comfortable cancelling on appointments last minute and we’ve suddenly become brands – spending much of our free time trying to take the perfect selfie, Instagraming our brunch and crafting the most clever #hashtag combination.

But this blog is not a grumble over SoMe, it’s actually quite the contrary. I recently caught up with a friend (yes, in person) over a (non-Instagramed) lunch. We started talking about Gilovich and Boven’s research on why experiences make us happier than material goods. This thought married with SoME – where we desperately document our every move – means experiences have become the new social commodity. Now that’s a brilliant thought. SoMe is, in a very small way, pushing us to live happier lives.

The theme of our conversation came up recently at the Meet the Future conference in London. Neuroscientist Dr. Beau Lotto kicked off the event with his talk, “How does your brain make meaning?”

Beau explained that “Truly shared experiences have to happen with people or brands we care about. They have to be in the physical world.” Which raises the question, “How can technology-based experiences be meaningful?”

Musing on this question, Beau created Traces. It’s an app that works ‘in the space between’ the real world and virtual reality. Users can take a piece of content (photos, videos, articles, microsites, etc.) and ‘hide’ it in any defined location anywhere in the world. This piece of content then lives as a bubble in the atmosphere – quite literally.


From there, users can invite a single person or the general public to find their Trace. Invitees are then prompted to visit the defined location, open the Traces app and start searching the area through their smartphone. Suddenly they will find a bubble floating in the air. The user then aims a target on the bubble to ‘pop’ open the content. Even more fun is that cheeky bubble may slowly float out of focus while you’re trying to catch it. Everyone loves a bit of gamification!

Updates will allow these Traces to be a single occurrence or series of happenings. One Trace can even be set up to unlock another (treasure hunt anyone?!). You can even adjust the timeframe a Trace may occur in – hours, months or forever!


Beau explains the app works because it requires effort. This may sound funny as we are constantly told to simplify everything for the consumer. But Beau has found that we associate this effort with meaningful experiences. And if experiences are the new social commodity then we’re associating value as well.

In fact, to test this hypothesis, the Traces group conducted a study with a set of focus groups. The team sent the same song to two separate groups. One group received the song through WhatsApp, the other through the Traces app. Each time, the focus group who received the song through Traces rated the same song 20% better than their WhatsApp counterparts!

I guess this is just like our experiences in life. Aren’t we just a bit more proud of an accomplishment that faced aversion? A bit more boastful about an exclusive event we attended? Glowing after finally snogging Mr or Miss Hard-to-get? Hell, don’t we all rave about the latest pop-up?!

Through Traces, people or brands can consume experiences together, without having to physically be in the same place at the same time. After all, Gilovich said, “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods… We consume experiences directly with other people. And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”

If you’re telling stories with your consumers, you’re on a solid path to growth. As Seth Godin points out, “The heart of real growth is simple: People decide to tell other people.”

These two wise quotes, if combined, would be akin to a beautiful song sung by the siren Bonnie Raitt Let’s give ’em something to talk about.” I’ll leave you two to it…

Learn more about Traces here and here