Monday, December 29, 2008

Opportunities Found and Lost

To try these codes out on your own phone, text the word "scan" to 70734, or navigate on your phone to

I'm always excited to find real life uses of codes out in the market place, and anxious to provide advice--usually unsolicited--on how to use them even better.

Take Cellufun, for example. If you navigate to their site from your desktop or laptop (, you'll find that this is an excellent wap-oriented site that provides all sorts of free entertaining stuff for your phone--games, screensavers, ringers, etc. Right there on the front page is an EZCode that looks something like the one on the left here.

This is an excellent example of making it very easy for someone to move from one form of media to another using mobile codes. Let's face it: talking about wireless services on the web is kind of like talking about heaven while on earth. It's not really possible. It's just a shadow of what it must really be like. It's much better to go to the discussed medium and actually experience it.

Scan the code listed above, and you get the main menu of cellufun for the wap phone. From there you can navigate and actually experience all the wonderful things cellufun has to offer.

BUT, it could be even better, and Cellufun is missing an opportunity. If you navigate on your desktop to a particular game, you can learn all about the game. I happen to like the venerabl minesweeper and I hyperlinked happily there on my laptop. I was even happier to find that there was a code right there on the minesweeper page to help me make the jump to my mobile. But alas, the disappointment to discover it was the exact same code as the one on the main page. I had navigated to minesweeper and was interested enough in playing it that I scanned the code, but found that it was the exact same code as the one found on the homepage! In other words, I found minesweeper on the wireline, was interested enough to try it out on the wireless, and Cellufun essentially forced me to navigate AGAIN from the homepage on the wireless!

Codes enable a lot of things never before enabled that must be absorbed by code publishers and users alike. Here are a few:
  • The codes themselves are essentially free. You can make as many codes as you want to make without incremental cost. Why? Because the supply of codes is limitless! Contrast this with an SMS shortcode, where a limited number of available codes drives intrinsic value to the codes themselves.
  • With free codes, the luxury of precision becomes available. Want to measure a specific campaign? Create a specific code! Want to drive people to a particular spot on your wap site? Create a specific code? You really could create hundreds, thousands, and millions of unique codes without too much trouble.

I have no direct connection to Cellufun, but I hope they'll give multiple codes a try. Why not create unique codes for each game, directing users to that unique experience? Save them some time! Show them some respect! Reward them for wanting to try out your services!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Making print advertising more relevant

To try these codes out on your own phone, text the word "scan" to 70734, or navigate on your phone to

You don't have to be paying much attention to know that traditional media is hurting. Newspapers, magazines, television, and so on. The current crisis is part of a trend that started years ago and will continue for years to come.

Although you could point in many directions, what's primarily at stake is ad spending. As more spending follows readers online, fewer ad dollars are available for print. Fewer ad dollars means less editorial.

Barcodes could enhance the relevance and usefulness of print advertisement. Imagine if you will the following scenario: I've met my date for dinner and we generally know we want to go to a movie. But which movie, what's good, when does it start, will it be crowded, etc? What's useful in this case is discovery in print, and completion on wireless. If I happen to have the newspaper movie listings page, a code like this, printed in the paper, could initiate a rich dialogue and learning experience.
I have no idea whether this code will expire in some way soon because it happens to be part of a service from If it happens to still be working when you try it, you'll see that it directs you to a particular theater and a particular film, and the times the film will be showing today.
Envision the opportunities available now that we have managed a transition to an electronic experience! You can read reviews. You can see how other regular people thought about the film. You can find the best showtimes. You can buy the tickets and use your phone as a proxy for the tickets themselves. On some phones you can watch a trailer of the film. You could find the nearest theater using location based services and even get directions.
We used the newspaper as the initial communication device, and we used the mobile to explore and seal the deal. This is an ideal combination, a mass communication mechanism calling out, and a highly personal mechanism allowing exploration and differentiation..

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

To try these codes out on your own phone, text the word "scan" to 70734, or navigate on your phone to

I'm old enough to have teenagers and I've decided to get them to give me ideas that I can share with all of you. This one came from them but equally valuable for all of us, for different reasons. For me, my memory is slipping. For them, they're just careless.

I told a friend of mine about this idea and he said it should be branded "Dude, where's my car?" here's the idea: You pull into a parking lot, at work, at a mall, at a sports event, etc. The main idea is the parking lot is big and it won't be immediately obvious where you parked.

When you park your car, before you walk in, you scan this code. it immediately takes you to a wireless web page with a map where your car is. The map URL is unique to your spot, and uniquely associated with a unique code. Remeber, there are gazillions of codes and gazillions of URLs, therefore you can be as precise as you want to be.
When you leave and you want to figure out where you parked, launch your browser again to see where your car is parked. Or set it up the original code as an SMS code to have a response message sent to your handset with a link to a web address.

You could charge users for this service, or it could be ad supported at every stage of the process (at especially high CPMs because these ads could be location-based). Or, you could provide it for free in exchange for executing desirable behaviors, such as stopping by a particular desk for "validation." You could actually withhold the view of the map until such validation is obtained. An entrepreneur could sell this solution to a mall, shopping center, or to a large corporation.

Okay, another good idea, delivered free of charge to all you entrepreneurs out there. I tell you, I'm printing money for you!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Photography Services and barcodes

To try these codes out on your own phone, text the word "scan" to 70734, or navigate on your phone to

You've all been to a themepark where complete strangers approach you and take pictures of you. Turns out that these are theme park employees trying to sell you the photos later on for exorbitant prices. This happens to be a pretty big money maker for them. The mechanism for transaction hinges on a plastic card with a regular barcode on it. They scan the barcode and associate the photo they just snapped with the barcode.

The theme parks could enhance the photo experience and encourage greater revenues by allowing you to access the photos even before you get home. While waiting in one of those really long lines for a ride, you could pull out your cellphone, scan the code, and look at all the photos taken of you that day. You could edit the list, send some of the photos to grandma, post some to facebook, or even order prints. Some of these could be chargeable events, some not. A key point is that the theme park can immediately establish a relationship for the photo service. People lose those cards, they lose interest, and the bills from their vacactions begin to trickle in.

Check this code out for a humble example of how the theme park might use a service like this.

Can you think of some additional ideas about how codes could be used in theme parks? I've got about 5 additional ideas, but I'm hoping y'all will tell me what they are!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Why making mobile barcodes for facebook is a good idea

To try these codes out on your own phone, text the word "scan" to 70734, or navigate on your phone's browser to

I've recently become a big fan of facebook. I'm one of those old guys who became familiar only in the past 6 months. It's fun because one by one my friends from past lives are signing up and finding me. We don't always have a lot to say, but I am certain my contact information won't get lost when the next high school reunion roles around.

I think there is a match between facebook and mobile barcodes because it is not always easy to find people. I have a pretty common name, and people from high school may not know where I went to college, where I now live, what my married name might be, etc.
Imagine the high school reunion scenario where I've come across someone and I don't want to lose touch again: "Just look me up on facebook, John Smith." How would you even articulate which John Smith you are?
So check out this code. It's a web code that points to my facebook mobile web profile (btw, you can navigate to facebook on your mobile at Someone I want to reach me will scan this code, which reaches my profile site. If we are not already friends, then the person can add me as a friend. If we are already friends, then you go directly to my profile.
Here is the rub, and I'm hoping someone out there can help: It's kind of a pain to make: Here are the steps:
1. Get a friend to navigate to their own facebook page on the mobile, sign in, and then view your page. Write down the web address as it appears in your friend's mobile phone.
2. Navigate to scanlife ( on a browser and set up a personal account. Create a web code and type in the URL you previously wrote down. Then publish the code.
It's step one that I think can improve. Problem is, there is a wireless web address that is different from the regular web address, and the profile address (when someone else navigates to your site) is different from the address when you yourself navigate to it. I've had a hard time predicting what the wireless web address will be.
There are applications that can be developed by people more adept than me. Seems like it would be easy for facebook or someone else to invent a utility for high school reunion goers to stay connected. Is this not a worthy cause?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mobile Barcodes in retail

Items for sale in retail stores tend to have 1-d barcodes on their packages. 1-d codes are those closely-packed vertical lines of varying thickness, so called because a scanner need only read horizontally. Traditionally they have been placed their for use at checkout, or for use by clerks managing inventory.

Some new phones and new applications have come along that extend the scanning experience to consumers. Armed with the right phone and the right software, consumers can use the codes in ways never intended by the manufacturer or the retailer.

The most obvious purpose is for a consumer to price compare an item on a shelf: scan the code on the shelf and find all the other physical and electronic merchants who might sell the item for less.

Services like this have been around for years but have been limited by the inconvenience of entering the barcode manually into a webform on your phone. It's an exciting demonstration of the way mobile barcode scanning can unlock new and unpredicted experiences.

So what's the downside here? First, at least in the US, 1-d barcodes can be read only by the most advanced phones, so the comparison shopping experience is available only to a small portion of consumers. Second, it creates a purpose for a barcode that never previously existed, and is unintended from the product manufacturer and the retailer's point of view. The article points out the awkward stance taken by several retailers.

I don't think it is appropriate or possible or healthy to prevent consumers from comparison shopping. But I also think retailers and manufacturers can and should claim a voice for themselves through this channel. IMHO, the way for them to accomplish this goal is to negotiate with the people making and distributing the scanning software.

Scanning software has two general functions: Turn the code symbol into a number, and do something with that number. retailers/manufacturers should interact with the scanning software guys to influence the second part of this equation. The influence could vary between providing the complete experience, to ensuring high placement in search results.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Physical World Connection and Precision

In the last post I demonstrated how the Physical World Connection could enable a link between the paper version of the New York Times and the mobile version of the New York Times. But I argued that it would be even better if there were a connection between a specific component of the New York Times and a specific component of the mobile version of the New York Times.

A digression: Navigating a web experience on wireless devices sucks, even on the best phones. Lots of reasons for this, including small and non-querty keyboards, fat fingers on touch-screens, slow networks, small screens to look at, and frankly, poor design. There are steady improvements in all of these areas, but it will be a long time--maybe never--before navigation is really good. So, there is a A LOT of value in reaching the exact spot you want to without too much trouble.

So, why stop with the code on the front page of the New York Times? Why not have a code associated with every editorial item in the newspaper? (We'll get to advertising another time, but it is equally exciting). Remember, there is an infinite number of codes, therefore, incremental cost of each individual code created is negligible.

Take for instance an article today in the New York Times about the bailout of the big 3 auto makers. As I write this, the code presented here is a link to that particular article in the Times. I'm not affiliated with the Times, so I don't know if this link will gradually expire or change, or whatever, but if I were, I would be in a position to maintain this link forever.
With this code I've solved a potentially painful navigation problem, and I've also opened the door to lots of new opportunities. Now that the reader is on the mobile she can comment on what the bailout means to her and her family. The article could be longer or contain a set of links that would not have fit in the physical paper's space constraints. Lots of additional photos could be presented. Options to send the article to friends could be exploited.
At some point I'll talk about how codes can help sustain the whole print media concept. But I'll save that for another day.

Enhancing the connection between print and electronic media

"Physical World Connection" is a term frequently used when describing the value of mobile barcodes. The idea is that anything in the physical world can be tagged and associated with information about it, probably stored in electronic form. The connector is the barcode because it provides the means of accessing precise information about a physical world thing.

Barcodes are uniquely positioned to be an effective physical world connector, primarily because there are so many of them. There is potentially infinite supply of codes; therefore, an infinite number of physical objects can be tagged.

This article reviewing the mobile versions of well known newspapers is an interesting example: I've created a code that links to the front page of the New York Times. Give it a scan!
Now imagine this code posted on the front page of today's NYT. I want to read it but I have to leave the physical paper behind for some reason. I scan the code and immediately have mobile access to much the same content.
Pretty good you say, but how can it be even better? I'll describe that in the next entry.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Publishing your own codes

An important part of the codescanning experience is creating codes on your own and sharing them with your friends or using them in business. Today I want to focus on the "Contact" code. You can make one for free if you navigate to on your computer and sign up for a free personal account.

I've attached such a code with my own information. A lot of this is fictitious data, so you may get an odd experience if you click through too far on some of the links. This demo shows, however, that the experiences presented are real, and can be accessed with very little trouble with a level of flexibility that is hard to duplicate.

Consider the code presented here for me, Al Franks. Were you to select any of the categories presented, you would find that they are all operational (They just don't go anywhere, with the exception of the email, which I WOULD get).
Codes like this are ideal in at least two situations. First is in the signature line of an email message, where you normally present address info. Second is on the back of a business card.
While the utility of these use cases right now is high--i.e, easier and more accurate than entering a lot of data--it will increase even more over time. That's because users can actually save the information presented to their mobile "contacts" list. Imagine replacing the typing, the unreliable business card scan, or keeping (and probably losing if you are at all like me) the physical card forever. Right now, a handful of phones support the "saving" function, but this will increase steadily over the near future. I for one look forward to the time I can scan all the cards I get at a conference or tradeshow into my mobile, which then synchs to my primary contact list on my PC.