Mobile Monday's State of the Mobile Barcode - A Recap

The other week, I mentioned that I was going to be a member of Mobile Monday NY's panel discussion on the "State of the Mobile Barcode." Here's a recap of last night's event.

The presentation was attended by about 150 people and, based on a quick show of hands, I had the impression that most people in the room knew about 2D barcodes, had scanned a code or two, but were not really involved with the development or implementation of an actual 2D-based campaign.

The panel discussion lasted for a little over an hour and was moderated by columnist and web strategist Angie Schottmuller. Angie did a fine job keeping the discussion on track, synthesizing and summarizing the panelists' comments and offering her own knowledge about the subject, which is immense. The panel consisted of Dan Frommer (editor and founder, SplatF), William Hoffman (CEO, Mobile Tag), Adam Shapiro (Business Development Manager, Microsoft Tag), Taylor Burton (Director of Sales, Augme) and myself.

The main questions which the panel focused on consisted of the following: Which campaigns worked best using 2D technology and why? What are some best practices that advertisers should pay attention to? How aware are people when it comes to recognizing one code from another? What are the main differences between QR Codes and Microsoft Tag? How does the QR Code's error correction level (i.e., the ability to design a customized code) factor into its use by advertisers? What is near field communication (NFC) and does it spell the death knell for 2D barcodes?

In summary, I would say that nothing new was reported with respect to best practices. We all agreed that advertisers need to help educate consumers on the use of the technology, the campaign itself needs to offer value, meaning and relevance to the end user, the code used in a campaign needs to be thoroughly tested and the advertiser needs to develop a campaign based on a consumer's perspective, not their own.

With respect to the main differences between QR Codes and Microsoft Tag, here the panel got a bit bogged down in the discussion, as there is much to say and debate on the subject, and by having representatives of different code formats/platforms in the room each one wanted to get their two cents in. I'll expand on my thoughts here below but, suffice it to say, there are differences, advantages and disadvantages to each code format and it all depends on an advertiser's goals, objectives, capabilities and comfort level as to which format/platform to use.

In regard to error correction level and the ability to produce designer codes, Angie summarized this well and explained that with QR Codes an advertiser has the option of developing a customized code, but this may or may not make the most sense from a tactical/branding perspective. What also stemmed from this topic, and which is somewhat of a best practice, is the fact that advertisers need to pay attention to how and where they plan to display a code, QR, Tag or any other. Where a code is displayed can have repercussions with respect to code scanability and this is something to consider when formulating a strategy.   

On the subject of NFC, over the past year or so, many people have opined that this technology will cause the end of 2D, but after hearing the panel and others in the room speak about it, my thoughts are that it won't. Or, at least, it won't anytime soon. Although NFC might offer some technological and/or user advantages over 2D, there is a great cost aspect associated with the technology for advertisers and this, I believe, is what will slow roll out and adoption.

Going back to the topic of code differences and which format might be better, here is my great take away. The providers/platforms in the space (e.g., Microsoft Tag, Augme, Mobile Tag, ScanLife, etc.) have all built their own sandbox to play in and, more importantly, to defend. A lot of money has been sunk into platform development and infrastructure, etc., so this defense posture should come as little surprise. While I agree with what one panel member was saying with respect to code format scalability and not having to force the consumer to be a technologist (i.e., the need to figure out which reader app goes with which code format, etc.), in my mind let there be a competitive landscape, and let the decision and responsibility rest with the advertiser to choose which platform/code format is best for them and their audience. As with most of anything in a competitive environment, over time, the best (i.e., company, product, service, application, etc.) will rise to the surface, be recognized by the masses and adopted. Last week, we started to see some consolidation take place among major providers in the space and I believe this will happen more and more, as time goes by and the advertisers learn that much more about what makes the most sense for their needs and for those of their customers.

On a final note, I would like to comment on a few of the business cards I received last night. Take from it what you will. First, I scanned the two Data Matrix codes found on Mr. Hoffman's card using two of my favorite reader apps (NeoReader and i-nigma) and they both failed to resolve the codes. Since it just so happens that I have the AT&T reader app on my phone (Mobile Tag is the technology behind AT&T's mobile barcode platform, see article), I used this to scan Mr. Hoffman's card and it worked. This episode points to something proprietary about Mobile Tag, but let's not get mired in that. I will say, however, that the mobile website that I was brought to defaulted in French (Mobile Tag is a French company) and could be better designed. Second, I was given business cards from three different people at Augme and only one had a 2D code on it. When I scanned the code, I was brought to the desktop version of the company's website. As a "leader" in the space, shouldn't they be leading by example and have a mobile site linked to the code? Third, the business card from Mr. Shapiro displays a customized/designer Microsoft Tag. The Tag has a picture of Mr. Shapiro in the background and in the foreground are the multi-color dots which make up the code itself. Whether it is a self image or that of a company's logo, why have it obstructed by dots? This is the one thing I don't understand about designer Tags. It's too distracting.

Overall, I believe the topic was well presented/moderated and the discussion well received. I would like to thank David Harper and Mobile Monday NY for asking me to participate.

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