Have you seen any of these colorful ‘tags’ on product packaging or marketing literature recently?
Microsoft introduced these new tags at the CES 2009 in January and I just ‘discovered’ them last week. Microsoft Tag is based on a new technology called High Capacity Color Barcodes (HCCBs), which was invented in-house by Microsoft Research and it uses triangle shapes and colors to store data. This technology is an update to the QR Code 2-D bar codes created by a Japanese company in 1994 where they are the most popular type of 2-D code.
According to the FAQs on the Microsoft Tag (beta) site, Microsoft Tag:
…connects real life with the digital world. Microsoft Tags are small, colorful codes that can be printed, stuck, or displayed just about anywhere. When you snap a Tag with the camera on your internet-enabled phone, additional information or experiences are automatically opened on your phone. There is no fumbling with URLs or texting short codes. Microsoft Tags can make product packages, posters, print-based ads, magazine articles, exhibit signage, billboards, storefronts, business card, or just about anything else, interactive.
The idea is to close the gap between the physical and digital world by making it easier for end users to easily get more information about products and services.
Microsoft Tag Reader is available on most mobile platforms including Windows Mobile, J2ME, iPhone, Blackberry, and Symbian S60 phones (your phone will need a camera and internet connection). I used the iPhone application and it works as advertised – just launch the application and point the phone camera at the tag. To get the free reader application, point your phone’s browser to http://gettag.mobi and you can get the iPhone application from the Apple Store.
For now, Microsoft is allowing users to make their own tags by going to http://www.microsoft.com/tag/ and creating an account which is super-easy if you already have a Microsoft Live account. You can create tags that include URLs, free text, vCard or even dial a phone number. There is also a reporting service tied to the tags you create where you can view the number of clicks by day. After you create the tag, you can render the tag in several different formats so you can copy it to product packaging, post on a website or document. The interface to create the tags could be more user-friendly and it should also let me create JPG files for my tags instead of just pdf, wmf or xps.
For me, I will definitely add the tags to my next set of business cards. Companies should also start experimenting with adding the tags to their packaging and product literature. Obviously, it will take some time for user adoption since end-users need to take the step to install the reader program and companies won’t take a big leap unil more end-users have the Reader application. Within the next 12 to 18 months, I expect this tagging technology to take off in a big way.