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Microsoft Tag - say what you see

12. January 2009 by james 0 Comments

Today Chris Skinner wrote about Microsoft Tag, the latest means of using images to represent textual data or URLs.  Chris rightly links these to Quick Response (QR) codes but I think misses one important difference about these tags compared to what we've seen before.  A Microsoft Tag is a pictorial identifier to information which is stored server-side by Microsoft and which is retrieved by the mobile TagReader client.  This is the first reason you need an internet connection and differs from traditional QR codes which embed the information directly into the 2D barcode itself with no external connectivity required.

What does that mean in practice?  Well, if we encode the couple of lines of my last blog post using Microsoft Tag we get:

"Just a quick link post today but there have been three posts over the past week that have really struck me as some cheery news in difficult times: Barclays pilots Microsoft Surface in new flagship concept branch.  The reference to Microsoft Surface is almost the least interesting bit of this article (more...)" 

Compare that to a traditional 2D barcode which renders as:
The barcode is that large so as to try and make it readable by a camera but you're on a loosing battle at this point.  If you've got a 2D barcode reader app on your phone and try to read the image above you'll be very lucky if you get anywhere.  Use the Microsoft TagReader application on the first image though and chances are you only have to point the camera roughly at the image before it gets picked up.
Now of course, we could have encoded a URL in the 2D barcode to the same image but the point is that far more data can be stored in a Microsoft Tag (free text allows up to a 1000 characters).  It also has additional benefits:
  • A small amount of data means the image is quick to interpret
  • Being quick to interpret means the user doesn't have to hold the image rock solid for a length of time
  • A tag publisher gets statistics on how many people have scanned the tag
  • A tag publisher will get general location information from customer's who have the feature enabled in TagReader
  • Allows password protection (few details around the implementation of this)
  • Allows expiration date to be set 
The requirement for an internet connection from the mobile is far less of a barrier than it was and there is plenty of scope for innovation around this, both from the customer holding a tag (rendered on a phone/printed on a card) and the customer reading a tag.
Obviously this is just Microsoft's implementation of this and the same idea could be implemented in different ways using custom client applications (dangerous path ahead...) and, while it doesn't feel like a standard in the making, it does give some interesting food for thought.

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