One of the interesting items announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week was Microsoft Tag (http://www.microsoft.com/tag). It is a different kind of bar code, intended to be read by cameras in cell phones and mobile devices with Internet connectivity.
Each tag can be generated and managed on the Microsoft Tag website, and each one can be associated with a number of things, such as a URL (link to a website), free text, vCard (electronic business card), or dialer (call-out #).
A reader application is required on the mobile device to interpret the tag, and interact with the Microsoft Tag service to find the associated information. It is available for the iPhone, BlackBerry 81xx/83xx/Bold, J2ME, Symbian S60-3E, and Windows Mobile 5/6. Point your mobile browser to http://gettag.mobi and install.
Of course, this isn’t anything new. Various types of codes have existed for a long time now. A Wikipedia entry on bar codes provides a nice overview, which also shows the HCCB (High Capacity Color Barcode) format Microsoft Tag uses. But now we have a free service to generate and manage them.
There are a lot of applications for this, but in general mobile tagging provides a bridge between the physical and the online worlds. Anything a camera can see, can be embedded with a tag, and associated with a specific piece of content. For example, I pointed my cell phone at my screen to interpret the tag above, and it worked!
Now technically, printing/showing URLs or related information on physical items would do pretty much the same, but mobile tagging automates the human interaction part of it, and we don’t have to read/process the printed information, then data input it into the device to retrieve the information. Now we just need to point the device at the tag, and it will display the associated information. It also means that while the physical tag may be static, the information it is associated can be dynamic. I can print a tag as my business card, and not worry about it being outdated or needing to update business contacts if any of my information changes.
More information available at the Microsoft Tag website http://www.microsoft.com/tag.