Mobile Tagging – Using Two Dimensional Barcodes to Expand the InternetThe line between online content and the offline world is quickly eroding. For years it has been common place to include a web address on marketing materials, package wrappers, and signage, but these addresses required the viewer to maintain an interest in a company or website from the point of discovery to they reach a computer, or to peck out an address on a cell phone. This gap in access between discovery and information, allows for any number of distractions to swoop in and siphon off a customer who might be fence sitting on a product. A unique combination of several technologies is doing what it can to erase this gap through two dimensional barcodes. That practice, already widespread in Japan, is set to make the jump to the United States in the near future.
The concept is called “mobile tagging” and it typically involves two-dimensional barcodes, a camera phone, and a webpage created specifically for mobile phone browsers.
The two dimensional barcodes are not necessarily a new invention, having been created in both the United States and Japan almost simultaneously in the mid-1990s. The result is a barcode that makes use of blots, or boxes, or dots rather than simple vertical lines. These two dimensional barcodes are able to encode a great deal of data – an upper limit of 4000 or so characters compared to the twenty or so of a traditional barcode. The ability to pack that much data into such a tiny spot has turned the barcode from a simple method of tracking into a means to relay human-meaningful information.The cell phone isn’t new either. However, the wide scale proliferation of mobile phones was paired by the addition of inexpensive digital cameras and access to the mobile internet. With the aide of relatively simple programs, mobile phones could learn to read matrix barcodes, and if the barcode contained a web address, the mobile phone could access the website right then. The gap between discovery and access was stopped.
The concept itself seems rather simple. However, it’s the applications that hold a great deal of potential. The matrix two dimensional barcodes, when used in mobile tagging, has several advantages over the written web address.
First, and perhaps foremost, the viewer does not know exactly what to expect when they view a matrix barcode without a camera which can read it. Sure, the viewer can garner some basic assumptions from context clues, but where the code points to is actually a mystery. To capitalize on the mystery, it is common for two-dimensional barcodes to be served without context clues on plain white billboards.For a viewer, the need to understand, the need to justify such a massive barcode, is prompt enough actively respond to the tag, pull out a cell phone and snap a photo. At that point, the website is a click away and the viewer has done a great deal of the leg work in become an actual consumer.
Another advantage of using a two-dimensional barcode over a printed web address: long and specific addresses are preferred rather than forbidden. Customers engaging in mobile tagging can be directed to specific landing pages, tailored not only for a mobile device, but also based on geo-location. When a unique two-dimensional barcode is created based on the location in which it will be displayed, or to match the content it is paired with, the end result is targeted information that is greatly more relevant to the viewer. The more relevant the content, the greater the chance of turning a visitor into a customer.Not all two-dimensional barcodes are simply marketing tools, though. Nor do they have to contain a simple web address. In Japan, matrix barcodes have replaced nutritional labels on food packages – redirecting the viewer to a mobile webpage that contains that information instead. Another common use is location-specific information, which is particularly popular in the tourism industry. A two dimensional barcode next to a work of art or historic building can direct visitors to information that is far too detailed and lengthy to fit on a sign.
In the end, the variety of uses for two dimensional barcodes is largely limited only by the imagination of the creator. Much as the internet is freeing ideas and connecting individuals, the question one should be asking about mobile tagging is “How could the internet help my situation if it weren’t bound to a computer?” After all, this isn’t a technology that’s bound solely to Japan. Currently in Apple’s App store, there are no fewer than three mobile tagging programs for the device. Mobile tagging is coming.
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