Mobile Barcodes: Dead or Alive?

I’d been wondering a bit about mobile barcodes lately after I set one up as a shortcut for a blog. There’s no doubt that they’re useful as a means of navigating to a site on a mobile device, and have lots of other potential uses as well. But after being talked about as the next big thing for quite some time, will they ever amount to more than just a puff of hype?

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I’d been thinking about barcodes for a few days when I went to my local megamultiplex to see a film, and ran into this on the front door. That seemed rather serendipitous. It illustrated the utility of barcodes by taking me to a mobile site for the forthcoming Tim Burton flick 9, where I was able to download a trailer and whatnot. But it also illustrates some of the problems of barcodes: it says to send a text to a shortcode at the bottom. As the text should say “READER”, obviously they’re going to try to send you a code reader. But if you need to get the reader, and have to send a text, would it be better just to get a text with the link to the site? Furthermore, if you’re a normob and confronted with this poster, are you really going to know what to do with it? I doubt it.

Furthermore, the growth of QWERTY devices makes the entry of URLs slightly less painful, and mobile-focused URL shorteners are emerging alongside short-code services to make things even easier. And if the “shortcut” requires users to download and install a barcode reader app, it’s not much of a shortcut.

So it’s a bit hard to see a bright future for barcodes that are nothing more than encoded URLs, isn’t it? Barcodes can be used for a lot more than that — the film I went to see when I ran into the poster was Food, Inc., which got me thinking about how nice it would be to be able to use barcodes to find out more information about the provenance of food items, as lots of people have thought. I think it’s these sorts of applications that, if anything, will draw users to mobile barcodes, rather than URL shortcuts.

What are your thoughts on mobile barcodes? And do you have any cool examples of how they’re being used?

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