At The Next Web, we keep our antennae tuned, and Microsoft has currently only announced Microsoft Tags Beta in the USA. But as the software and web site are available globally, we thought you’d need to know – now.
This is how Microsoft describes its new service, which has been available since the 7th of January 2009 and was showcased at the CES 2009 show: —
Microsoft Tag instantly connects you to more information and entertainment – without typing long URLs or texting short code. Simply snap the Tag with your mobile phone, and Microsoft Tag takes you there!
The idea is probably familiar to those of you who know about QR Codes, or were at The Next Web Conference in April 2008, when Robert Scoble gave a keynote address wearing a QR Coded T-shirt. (Photo of Robert Scoble by Guido van Nispen). And QR Codes have been around for a number of years – they are heavily used in Japanese newspapers and magazines, for example.
The main differences with Microsoft Tag are as follows: –
- Every scan your phone makes gets tracked by MS servers
- The Microsoft Tags are coloured, as opposed to monochrome for QR Codes
- Tags can be designed with expiry dates to encourage instant use
- Tags are designed to be scanned at scale (for outdoor posters etc)
Microsoft is using its formidable marketing skills to package this attractively for consumers and businesses – and from the promotional material, it’s doing a good job of avoiding the geeky, and keeping things simple and clear. You can download the free Microsoft Tags mobile software for your phone at http://gettag.mobi – and try it out on the tag below to grab the author’s vCard data. Software is currently available for J2ME, Symbian S60, iPhone, Blackberry and of course Windows Mobile phones. This is in fact, only Microsoft’s second iPhone application, after its image viewer SeaDragon.
I expect future developments of this will see more formats become available to allow, for example, pre-scripted SMS contact, and to allow ‘callback’ or text chat interaction. I also would expect this to be used, for example to provide data downloads back to the phone, which can then can be displayed at point of sale to redeem vouchers, or even act as an electronic entrance ticket. Integrate it with Microsoft ID and Passport services, and you might have something very powerful – especially as it can all be harnessed by a device that rarely leaves the side of its owner.
Creating and Managing Tags
In the back-end at the Tags site, creating tags is very simple. You need a Microsoft ID to create tags, and can create a PDF, WMF or XPS file in a variety of sizes. You can make the Tag have an ‘action’ of a URL, Free Text, vCard, or Dialer, and you can also set start and end dates on the tags – useful for competition-style entries. The fact that you can, as the creator of a code, view reports (aside from potential privacy concerns for users of the service) will help you track the return you get on a campaign. It’s easy to manage multiple tags, with icons to show what type of tag you’re selecting, and you can categorise, expire and delete tags readily. [screen shot]