Monday, February 1, 2010
Wow! My last blog post was in December! So much for my resolution to do more blog posts.
One of my first blog posts was on what I expected the next few years on the internet to look like. The one thing that I said would change is how we link data, and in addition to that, we can now add linking print materials, signs, etc. to web-based data.
Microsoft and a number of other companies have started experimenting with 2D barcode technology. Perhaps the two most promising are QR(Quick Read) Codes and Microsoft's "Tag" system. These both have strengths and limitations.
2D barcode technology allows companies and individuals to create codes that are readable via the cameras of smartphones and computers. It eliminates the need for the user to type URLs, contact information, etc. by automatically sensing and decoding the optical data. There are thousands of possible application for this technology.
This spring we are planning on rolling out bench signs that incorporates this technology. My plan is to link our bench signs to our online plant database (currently under construction). This would allow customers to see the care information for plants on their mobile phones and bookmark it for future reference. It would also allow us the ability to link to other content on our website from right inside the store!
QR codes utilize a black and white dot pattern that is capable of storing up to 8 bits of information. By todays standards that sounds small, but in reality that is up to 4,300 alphanumeric characters! The downside is that QR code tags need to be large enough for the phone's camera to read, and it has a very industrial look.
By contrast the Microsoft Tag system uses a code that incorporates colors allowing for more data to be stored in a smaller space. Microsoft is calling this new format "HCCB" (High Capacity Color Barcodes). A Microsoft Tag is essentially a machine readable web link, analogous to a TinyURL link: when read, the Tag application sends the HCCB data to a Microsoft server, which then returns the publisher's intended URL. The Tag reader then directs the user's mobile browser to the appropriate website. Because of this redirection, Microsoft is also able to provide Tag analytics to publishers!
Due to the fact that Microsoft has online management for the codes that you generate, this puts the final nail in the QR Code coffin for me. Being able to track trends among your customers is very important for businesses, and the inclusion of analytics by Microsoft was a huge stroke of genius. Furthermore, users can download the free Microsoft Tag reader application to their Internet-capable mobile device, launch the reader, and read a tag using their phone’s camera. Some GPS-equipped phones can, at the user's option, send coordinate data along with the HCCB data, allowing location-specific information to be returned (e.g. for a restaurant advertisement, a navigational map to the nearest location could be shown).
I think that this technology is going to be widely utilized by companies going into the next year, and I am planning on leading the way here at Bob's Market. I am sure that in the next few months you will start to see these codes popping up everywhere (hopefully not on roadside billboards though). If you are interested in the technology, try downloading the program and testing it on this blog. The above codes link to a website that I created for testing purposes.