This is the second post in a multi-part series about integrating the internet with the real world.
The Scannable World: Mobile Phones As Barcode Scanners," we introduced the concept of using your phone to scan barcoded objects in the real world. We also touched on some of the history surrounding this technology. One of the issues with barcoded ads today is where you find them: newspapers, arguably a dying medium whose subscriber base isn't necessarily composed of cutting-edge early adopters. So how can barcodes make their way to the people who actually use the web and other modern technologies? One company thinks they have the answer.In "
Neomedia is ready for the barcode trend to take off. They've been around for a decade and have had the technology for reading barcodes with mobile phones in place for years. Now, thanks to the ubiquity of modern mobile phones, they are poised for success if this trend ever takes off. Their barcode scanning software lets you access mobile web content by scanning ads from print, packaging, billboards, and even broadcast media.
The Printed Out Web
No matter how tech savvy you are, there are still times when you simply must print out something from the web. Driving directions are a great example. Now imagine that your printout looked something like this (see below) - directions at the top with a scannable ad for a hotel at the bottom of the page:
That printout isn't a prototype, but a real ad available today from RandMcNally.com. The ad is made possible through NeoMedia's partnership with Format Dynamics, a company that works with web publishers and advertisers to help transform web pages into readable printouts which can then be monetized with ads. The company's "Clean Print" technology is a real-time dynamic reformatting engine that harvests a page's content and then produces a printed page in a coherent format without odd line breaks, cut off images, etc. Clean Print will also work no matter how the end user decides to print - whether "Ctrl + P" is pressed or a print button is used, the results are the same.
Any site using Clean Print technology can now include barcoded ads alongside their content. This is great for driving directions, but also for articles that tend to be printed out and shared, such as those from online news sites. (Don't believe it? Just look at the uproar over the RWW print button, for example). Below is an example of what that looks like. The article is from The Orange County Register's site and the ad is for Crocs footwear.
Since the partnership between NeoMedia and Format Dynamics is still brand new, there aren't many other examples just yet. But Format Dynamics is already serving ads and reformatting the printed web pages of approximately 80 web publishers, including Rand McNally, CareerBuilder, the San Jose Mercury News, the Denver Post, the Houston Chronicle, and a few others. In time, NeoMedia will extend their barcode offering to more of these clients.
How To Scan: NeoMedia's NeoReader
NeoReader is the barcode scanning software. It's not a separate piece of hardware, but software that runs on your phone. NeoReader currently works on iPhone, Java, Symbian, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile. The only missing platform is Android, but the company plans to include that at a later time. Even without Android, the company has managed to cover most of the smartphone market as well as many of today's standard phones via their Java offering. (You can see a full manufacturer's list here).
To download the application, just go to get.neoreader.com from your handset's web browser and follow the instructions. If your handset is not supported, you can still access the NeoReader program. Just bookmark the URL get.neoreader.com/go. This web page will let you enter keywords and barcodes in order to access the same content available to users of the mobile application. iPhone users can simply download the NeoReader application from the iTunes App Store.
Android has been announced but it isn't actually out yet, so we can't compare NeoReader to Android's barcode scanning apps like CompareEverywhere or GoCart. On the iPhone, though, NeoReader is not the only barcode reading app currently available - there are several to choose from. In function and feature set, the difference between most of those apps and NeoReader is minimal. Like many of those other iPhone apps, NeoReader also lets you build your own barcode if you so desire. You can create a barcode for any URL just by going to http://www.neoreader.com/code.html and entering in the URL you want to convert.
Make a Barcode:
The real difference between NeoReader simply comes down to the fact that NeoMedia is a business that's trying to make barcode scanning a reality...it's not an app put out by an independent developer. NeoReader already has a handful of sites where it can be used and over the coming weeks they will be able to add to their list as their partnership with Format Dynamics deepens.
Is This The Answer?
With the rising popularity of camera phones, smartphones, and better web browsers for surfing the "real" internet at higher 3G speeds, there's an improved chance for a technology like barcoded ads to take off. However, for it to really become truly successful a lot of advertisers and big-name companies will have to get on board and consistently offer barcoded ads for an extended period of time - not just try it once and then give up, claiming them a failure. In today's uncertain economy, the number of advertisers willing to take this chance may be low.
NeoMedia's partnership with Format Dynamics means they are able to offer a good selection of web sites where you can find the technology in use. That's a good start at least, but ultimately the technology will come down to consumers' willingness to interact with the real world in this virtual manner. The expectation behind this whole barcoded ad platform is that people will see the advertisement and then take an extra step to learn more about the product or service. Is that even how today's consumers interact with ads? In our media-saturated culture, most consumers run from ads, not the other way around.
Will adding barcodes make viewing ads a more engaging experience or will consumers continue to ignore ads like they do today? That's a hard question to answer with a technology so new and untested, but it's possible that, if done well, barcode scanning could work. The trick may be to provide an added value to the customer who takes the time to scan. That added value could be a discount, a free gift with purchase, or something else of a compelling nature to the potential customer. That could make barcode scanning the coupon clipping of the 21st century...and that might actually work. Scan to save. We would do it. Would you?