Thursday, November 27, 2008

Surmounting the Codereader Download Problem

So if you haven't downloaded the barcode reader to your phone yet, none of this blog makes any sense. A quick reminder that the way to download the scanlife reader is to browse to on your mobile phone, or text the word "scan" to 70734.

But what if you HAVE gotten the software yourself already, and instead you want to convince someone else to get it? The easiest way is to send that person a text with a link in it. The best way to get that text message (if you don't have it right now), is to scan this text message code.

By the way, do you see that this is a special kind of code called an sms code? You could publish this code if you wanted anyone to text you if they scan this code. For example, you could make a sticker with a code like this and put it on property you might lose. Someone who found it could send you a text message and you could arrange to recover the lost property.

Mobile Shopping and Mobile Barcodes

There's been a good amount of buzz around mobile shopping over the past year. Different shopping experiences have different requirements, however, and some are more advanced and capable than others.

Today I want to talk about experiences where you already have a relationship with the site. The two I've chosen are ebay and amazon. Lots of people have accounts at both of these retailers. Because of that, it's possible to have a satisfying user experience from beginning to end.
I point this out because lots of mobile shopping experiences are promising at the beginning of the experience but less promising as you approach checkout. You might be required to enter your credit card or a shipping address. These inconvenient tasks on a mobile and people still feel a little squeamish about entering this information from a security pov.
Hence the value of shopping experiences where you are already a member. All you have to do is enter your username and password and you are off and running. Check these two codes out to see for yourself!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Free Classifieds on your Mobile

Craigs List is quite a phenomenon in the United States. It hasn't taken off on mobile devices, possibly because the company's mission does not encourage it.

There is a company that has taken the Free Classifieds concept to the mobile outside of the US and is now emerging in the US. It is designed to exist free and independent of the desktop. You should be able to navigate and post without reference to a desktop. In my own tier-2 city I am surprised at how robust the listings already are, with very little marketing to date. Check it out!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Barcodes Can Help You Find Mobile Content

I recently came across this article: It was a pretty good article and pointed out some quality mobile content.

There's a growing volume of mobile content out there, but it's still hard to find. And even if you know where to find it, it can be hard to navigate to on your phone.

For example, if I were to simply write here, "check out on your mobile, it's cool!," you would have a tricky journey ahead of you to actually get to that content. Contrast that experience with scanning the code above. You'd get there a lot faster.

Every now and then I hope to present some ideas why regular people might want to publish their own barcodes. As a blogger I'm trying to get as many people as possible to read my stuff. Lots of factors go into driving traffic (believe me, I'm not very good at it yet!), but one factor could be to make it really easy for people to read it wherever they are. My original thought was, why not guide people towards the opportunity to read my blog from their cell phone?

The code presented here points to, the web address of my blog. Perfect! I could say to readers, "Look, if you want to extend your reading experience to the cellphone, just scan this here code from your computer screen, and immediately the mobile version of my blog will load to your cell phone. You could continue reading something you don't have time to read right now, or even better, you could bookmark this wireless web address on your phone, so that you could conveniently come back from your mobile again and again.

For this to take off even faster, blog hosting companies could enable widgets to appear in margins of blogs so that bloggers could choose to present them. In the meantime, bloggers can create their own by going to

The Importance of Ubiquity

Ubiquity is an important consideration when considering a mobile barcode scanning solution. It is important to you, the consumer/user, because when you see a code on a piece of paper you want to be able to know that your phone can interpret it. It is important to the person or company putting the code out there because they want the confidence that their intended audience can interpret the code.

Ubiquity is a tricky beast because not all phones are alike. Some iconic phones, like the Apple iPhone for instance, can do some amazingly nifty things that most other phones can't. It needs applications--maybe even for barcodes--that can take advantage of its special capabilities. But when it comes to reach, it only accesses a small portion of the overall audience.

A solution that works "well enough" on as many phones as possible is vastly preferable. Take text messaging for instance. You need a data-capable phone, but this is a large and increasing number of handsets in the market. It is valuable mainly because you can assume your buddy can read the message you send, no matter what kind of phone and phone network it runs.
So as you choose to publish a code--whether you are an individual or a company--it's important to understand specifically how many handsets in your target audience codescanning works for. And you should also understand the definition of "works." Some companies will try to deceive you in this category.

Mobile Barcodes and the Longtail

In mobile web content (probably web content in general) the "Long Tail" refers to the millions of places and experiences that are interesting and valuable to someone, perhaps extremely so, but may not get visited all that often. A problem is to figure out how to get to that content quickly and easily without too much trouble. Search is a pretty good solution in some cases. In some cases users rely on "favorites" to get back to a previously visited, but obscure, web or wap site. But in some cases these methods fall short.

I believe that mobile barcodes can enable the long tail in a significant way. Consider a favorite example of mine, the bus stop. Companies like Nextbus ( have GPS-enabled buses, and have built algorithms that allow them to predict when the bus will actually be at a particular bus stop. One problem with the Nextbus solution is that in some cases--I would argue the most important cases--the excellent information the compan provides is not available to help a rider make a decision.

Here is where Nextbus is already really great:

  • I want to leave my flat or office at the right time before I start my commute so I look on the Nextbus site.

  • I am at a stop where I frequently travel and I have bookmarked the wireless web content for that particular route and stop on my mobile.

Wonderful, but what if I am at a particular bus stop in a town I've never been before, it's freezing out, I don't know if the once-an-hour bus has come already or not, and there is an alternative route I could commit to around the corner? You would want to access that long-tail content quickly and conveniently, wouldn't you?

I say conveniently because you can almost always access long-tail content from the web or mobile if you have time and patience, but there is a tipping point for most things where you make the decision whether it is worth it to start the discovery process.

So, how about posting mobile barcodes at every transit stop, for every route that passes through, that tell riders when the next bus is actually going to come (not, by contrast, when it is scheduled to come). I just now happen to have navigated the NextBus wireless website to Inbound Judah Street and Funston Ave on the mobile for San Francisco's "Muni" streetcar service. I chose this stop because I think there is a lot of traffic there a lot of the time (though I'm not certain whether it runs 24 hours--sorry!). The app requires quite a few layers of navigation to get to the right information, and if I knew what I was doing I would eventually get there on my mobile.

Think about it, though: Since I'm at a particular stop and want to go on a particular bus, It's predictable that I don't care much at all about the overall transit system: I just care about the particular bus and stop that will get ME where I want to go right now. The rest is useless to me at this moment. I'd like to go to the exact place to get the information I want. Fortunately, what information required in that situation is quite predictable, and is highly correlated with the place I'm standing at the particular moment. The code is a VERY convenient conduit into the precise information I want. Without the code I probably wouldn't even try to get the answer, and wouldn't even start the search process until I was good and frustrated.
Scan the code above to see how simple it is to get the precise bus-stop information I want:

Where will the Big Bang Come From?

A lot of people think there needs to be a big bang to mobile barcode scanning going in the United States. When pressed, they say it will require large investments by a lot of companies.
This may be true, but where will such investment come from, and what will be the nature of the investement? I think there are a good number of companies making investments in mobile barcode scanning infrastructure. This includes development of codescanning readers, code creation interfaces, standards development, and so on. Although there is a lot of squabbling among them, this area seems to be coming along.

The concern seems to come from the lack of investment from phone companies. In Japan the phone companies invested in making handset readers on lots of phones, and then invested in consumer education. In the US I believe that phone companies will make the readers available widely, but they may not actively market the capability.

Concern also seems to come from lack of investment from brands. More brands (like Ralph Lauren, see could take an active role in education, and then use mobile barcodes in their campaigns. Unfortunately most brands are less intrepid, and will probably choose to wait until codescanning is well established. But when will that be?
The old reliable "last resort" is viral marketing. What can be done to convince consumers--especially kids, let's admit it--to think of codes as cool? I'm going to try and explore some ideas over the coming few posts and solicit some feedback. I welcome your ideas...

By the way, did you figure out that the code in the previous post was a link to ESPN's mobile website? Links to mobile content could be a good way to use mobile barcodes.

How to Get Started

Okay, I'm going to alienate some of you right now by recommending the Scanbuy reader. Other readers may be technically superior and other readers have some whiz-bang features. Remember, I'm US-centric here, and I want to be democratic. The Scanbuy reader works on more phones than other readers in the US. The big reason for this is that Scanbuy is getting the carriers involved. In the US carriers can prevent readers from working on a lot of phones. Scanbuy is working with the telecommunications carriers to work in as many places and on as many phones as possible.

I'm not saying this will alway be true, but it is definitely true right now. My goal is to get people comfortable using mobile barcodes right now. We'll let time take care of itself.
I'll probably venture to discuss other readers and technologies and capabilities from time to time and try to be fair about them. But just keep in mind: US-Centric, and Democratic.
If you want to scan codes, you need codescanning software. Some will say you don't need software on your handset--and they would be right--but the experience without the software is vastly inferior to the experience of handset based solutions.

To get the software for your phone, send a text message to "70734" with the word "scan" in the body. You can also point your phone's browser to "" My experience is that the process to download the software from this point on is pretty straight forward.

If you aren't used to using applications on your phone, it's sometimes hard to find it. A lot of times it is under a category called "applications," or "my stuff" or something like that. In the list of presented logos you are probably looking for an image that looks a little bit like this symbol below.

Once you've finished the process, try this code out with your newly downloaded reader!

The Barcode Reading Experience

I'm hoping this will end up being a place for people to experience barcode scanning. As such, I'll try to walk people through doing it. I apologize in advance because I will have a particularly American bias. I'll also have a particularly democratic bias. The experiences I convey will focus on what is possible on as many phones as possible. I'll rely on your feedback to understand how the experience works on your phone and your network.

Consumer Barcode Scanning is Coming of Age

This blog is about mobile barcode scanning for consumers. I happen to be an American and the whole idea is pretty new to us. More and more of us are becoming aware that this phenomenon has been going for years in Japan and for a lesser time in Europe. There are some good things and some bad things about both of those. I'm going to try and get you to comment on them all and have a meaningful dialogue.