In the never ending contest to be digitally hip, we have come to expect announcements out of San Francisco and sometimes Boston or Austin. This is where the innovators and early adopters reside. Yet it is foolish to overlook New York. New York might not be the hotbed of innovation that San Francisco is. Instead, it is a city that excels in promotion and commercialization of the great ideas that come out of San Francisco and beyond.
Thursday morning provided another great example of this. New York City Media launched The City at Your Fingertips. At 11:15, the large Reuters Screen in Time Square began showing a series of QR Codes.
“Quick Response” or QR Codes are nothing new. They are two dimensional barcodes introduced in Japan in 1994. They have been used to share data, send text messages and access websites. One of my favorite examples of the wise use of a QR code is taxi stands in Japan where a passenger can scan a QR code with her cellphone which will automatically send a text message to the dispatcher requesting a pickup. They provide great opportunities for people to create hyperlinks in the real world. Just put a QR Code up at your business to make it easier for customers to follow your company on Twitter or like your business on Facebook.
Unfortunately, we’ve had a little bit of a chicken and egg problem with QR codes. Not many people have downloaded QR Code Readers for their cellphones; there just aren’t enough QR codes to scan. Companies have been reluctant to start using QR codes because there just aren’t enough people with QR Code Readers on their smartphones.
New York City Media, by placing QR Codes in a prominent place in Times Square has the potential to jumpstart the adoption of QR Codes. It is the sort of thing that New York always does well, helping ideas cross the chasm from the innovators to the early majority.
Various city officials were on hand for the QR Moment in Time Square. Commissioner of The New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting Katherine Oliver, who announced the moment at the Internet Week New York, #IWNY, kick off press conference was there as was Commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Carole Post. The QR Moment at Time Square illustrated how New York’s focus on film, theatre and broadcasting is leading the way into the digital world. It also provided a new way for people to find out about important information about what is happening in the city.
I scanned the QR codes with my Nokia N900 and it worked very nicely. As I looked around, I saw a couple New York City Police Officers holding up their smartphones to also scan the QR codes. Will the QR Code Moment in Time Square be what it takes to get wider adoption of QR Codes in the United States? We will have to wait and see. Whether or not it does, it clearly illustrates the leadership that New York City is seeking to establish as being the city that can take great ideas and make them successful in the broader world.
An important theme at Internet Week New York seems to be bar codes and location. As participants arrived for Internet Week, many checked in on Foursquare, and some have received a special InternetWeek Foursquare badge.
At the press conference kicking off events, Commissioner of The New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting Katherine Oliver spoke about QR Codes in Time Square on Thursday. PepsiCo announced an agreement with StickyBits about UPC code scanning and there was a discussion the future of location based marketing Monday at AOL Headquarters.
I have been observing much of this through the lens of my Nokia N900 as well as my background interest in many of these topics. I am a big fan of QR Codes and look forward to finding out what New York City has planned for QR code activities on Thursday.
Stickybits seems like an interesting effort to get people scanning barcodes with their mobile devices and might be the application that crosses the chasm from early adopters like myself to the early majority. They have made various choices which I, as a geek, would not have done. As an example, they are focusing on one dimensional UPC style codes instead of the two dimensional QR barcodes. They suggest that people are used to scanning UPC style barcodes, but most people have no idea what to make of a QR code. They may be right, but I do hope that people will learn the value of moving to two dimensional barcodes. It is worth noting that they do support QR codes.
They have released an application for the iPhone and for the Android, which will capture more smartphone users, and they’ve made their API open. Perhaps the mbarcode application for the Nokia N900 can be modified to support Stickybits API. As an aside, the mBarcode application was one of the first Nokia N900 applications I downloaded and it is great. I’ve used it to scan books, product codes, shipping labels in addition to QR codes. There are a lot of nice things that could be done as plugins; for example, an Amazon plugin so when you scan a book you would be taken to a page to review the book on Amazon.
What Stickybits does is that it allows users to leave comments on various barcodes. This seems similar to the Informed Individual that mBarcode is currently interfacing with. It also seems very similar to the Yellow Arrow project, although Yellow Arrow is simply SMS based. That said, you can set up QR codes to send an SMS message to Yellow Arrow, so I could imagine some mashup of Yellow Arrow and QR Codes down the road.
Then, of course, there is the issue of how all this relates to Foursquare. Currently, I use BarrioSquare on my N900. For some reason, it just has not worked reliably for me, but friends have been saying they’ve been having problems with other Foursquare applications, so it may be a problem with Foursquare and not BarrioSquare. I often get around this by going to the Foursquare mobile website. As a side comment, I never got the Internet Week badge, nor have I gotten the crunked badge, even though it seems like I should have received both.
It would seem that a good idea for various companies trying to promote their venues on Foursquare might want to put up a QR Code at their store for people to scan. At the Future of Location Based Marketing panel last night, there was the story of a company that had bought a cheap Netbook that they kept on the counter with a note asking people to login to Facebook and like the store on Facebook. It has help build up their fan base and has gotten many more customers talking about the store on Facebook. A QR Code for Facebook might likewise be a good idea.
Another interesting mobile play is what Mobile Meteor is doing. They did a quick pitch at the Future of Location Based Marketing yesterday. What they are doing seems pretty simple, straight forward, and of value to folks interested in location based marketing. They run an overlay on a website that checks to see if the person is visiting from a computer or a cellphone. If the person is coming from a cellphone, they get much location based information. They suggested visiting a website from a smartphone during the pitch. I did and the website played a really annoying tune.
Afterwards, I found that I had gone to the main website and Mobile Meteor had not recognized that the N900 was a smartphone instead of a computer. It is a common mistake, and to some people, it is no mistake at all. The N900 is a great Linux based computer that I use more and more for various computing tasks. However, in this case, I want it recognized as a smartphone. The folks at Mobile Meteor addressed this quickly over night and by the morning I could see what they were doing with their mobile overlay.
Will this be the year that a location and bar code enabled Internet really takes off in the United States? It seems like there are a lot of great possibilities. The iPhone and the Android will continue to fight for a role in this, but I’m going to stay with my Nokia N900 as a tool for innovators to experiment and push the envelope.
As I worked on my blog post about QR Codes, I confirmed something I had been concerned about with mbarcode; it doesn’t send SMS messages. In the discussion about mbarcode, the author writes about his desire to “Add support for further 2D barcode payloads - please suggest any you think it doesn't handle, code appreciated too”. I added a suggestion for supporting sending SMS messages, and started looking for how to add this.
The latest Starbucks apps for the iPhone is generating interesting comments on several different fronts. It seems as if there will always be innovators and early adopters trying out new technology when it comes along, even if it doesn't provide immediate benefits, in the hopes of some future benefit. There will also always be laggards and late adopters criticizing them.
I do not have an iPhone. It is too closed of a platform for me. I still use a fairly old rather dumb mobile phone. However, I have changed my habits even as a result of this older mobile phone. I take pictures and videos from my phone and send them off to sites like Flickr, Facebook and YouTube and I send text messages to many different systems.
So, when people ask, "Why not just use a card?" in response to the latest iPhone Starbucks app, I have to ask, why not just use a human teller instead of one of those new fangled ATMs?
People have complained that the new app is cumbersome. Yes, technology innovations are often cumbersome when they first come out. They often end up serving different purposes than they were initially designed for or what some of the laggards think they are for. As an example, a person on a financial technology community website did ask “why not just use a card”, thinking that the iPhone App is primarily about payment systems. Yet on marketing websites are wondering about how well this promotes Starbuck’s brand.
As a technologist, I find a few things interesting about the application. 2D code reports that it uses QR codes in an innovative way. It displays a QR code on the iPhone which can be scanned by a different device. Usually, I think of mobile devices as a QR code scanner instead of a QR code display device. It will be interesting to see who else comes up with interesting uses of mobile devices as QR code display devices.
The thing that I’m least interested in about the Starbuck’s app is that like the iPhone itself, it appears to be yet another closed system. If someone makes this more of an open micropayment type system, then I’m much more interested. If I could transfer money from my Starbuck’s account to a babysitter’s account, a pet walker’s account, the account of a blogger who wrote something brilliant, or any other person I might want to make a small payment to, then it becomes a much more interesting social application.
Right now, I’m not rushing out to get an iPhone, or another Grande Decaf Cappuccino, but I’m not going to bash the Starbuck’s iPhone app. Instead, I’ll sit back and watch to see who takes the innovation to the next level.
(Cross posted at DigidayDaily.)