Two of the biggest trends we tracked last year were Mobile Web and Internet of Things. In a new series on ReadWriteWeb, which we're calling Mobile Web Meets Internet of Things, we'll explore how these two important trends are converging and look at some cutting edge example products. We start with barcode scanning...

Internet of Things is when everyday objects become connected to the Internet, via technologies such as RFID tags, sensors and barcodes. One trend we saw expanding in 2008-09 was mobile phones being deployed as readers for barcodes.

Increasingly, smartphones such as the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android devices offer applications that allow you to scan a barcode on a product or object and get more information about it.

The Technology

Barcodes are similar to RFID tags, in that they both hold data. RFID tags are generally more functional and flexible than barcodes. Also RFID tags can be read/write, whereas barcodes cannot. However the big advantage for barcodes is that they're cheaper, therefore we're more likely to see scanning as a consumer activity ramp up in the U.S. via barcodes.

The most popular form of 2D barcode is the QR Code (the QR stands for "Quick Response"), which became popular in Japan and is now gaining traction in the U.S. and other markets.

The Products

In a series of posts written over September 2008, Sarah Perez analyzed the then burgeoning "scannable world." As Sarah explained, barcode scanning is not a new technology on the Web. One of the first examples was :CueCat, a cat-shaped barcode reader from the late 1990s. It linked a user to a website by scanning a barcode in an article or other printed matter. CueCat never took off because it required a separate piece of hardware, but now in 2010 smartphones are the hardware.

There's also no shortage of software circa 2010, such as ScanLife and the NeoReader app described in Part 2 of Sarah's Scannable World series. Other barcode reading apps are listed in Part 3 of that series.

There are a variety of use cases for barcodes on the Web. They include Semapedia.org (a non-profit project that aims to augment the physical world with Wikipedia data), QRContact (contact management via barcodes), and barcode wearables such as p8tch ("Think of it as a TinyURL you can wear"). But none of these is likely to become widely used in the mainstream, at least in the near future.

What Will be The Tipping Point?

In Japan, barcode scanning is already a popular activity thanks to the culture of using mobile phones for just about everything. In the U.S., where the Mobile Web took longer to ramp up, barcodes are yet to catch on. However there's one market where barcode scanning could become a mainstream activity in the U.S. and other countries. No, not magazine publishing - although there are valid advertising use cases there. We're talking about scanning retail products using your mobile phone.

By the end of 2009, a lot of barcode scanning apps had gained popularity in the iPhone and Android, in particular. In November we listed our picks for scanning and other mobile shopping apps to test over Black Friday.

There is no clear winner yet in the shopping barcodes market, but here are some applications you may want to try:

Thanks to followers of @rww on Twitter, who suggested some of those.

Will Consumers Adopt Barcode Scanning?

As well as adoption by retailers, another big question is: will consumers want to interact with real world products using their mobile phones? I suspect they will, once they begin to see compelling reasons for doing so - which will probably involve getting the best deals and being able to do advanced shopping comparison very easily.

Finally, it's worth noting that Google is active in barcodes. Google's Favorite Places program allows local businesses to put a sticker on their products which features Google's logo, a scannable barcode and a message reading "We're a favorite place on Google."

Barcode scanning and its applications will grow during 2010, meaning more and more real world data will be connected to the Internet and accessed on your mobile phone. There are many apps trying to entice consumers to wave their mobile phone in front of products, so let us know your favorites in the comments.

Image credits: clevercupcakes; Stan; ScanLife