A Sign Of The Times

Have you noticed these icons popping up with increasing frequency on business cards, advertisements and in magazines?

You may have asked yourself why are they there? What do they? Do I need one?

To help you make sense of these new icons I’ve written this quick introduction to the new age of barcodes.

Barcodes, traditionally those linear patterns on your groceries and department store price tags have, like so many other methods of identification, evolved over the years.

Initially commercially developed to automate the checkout process in grocery stores they have expanded from 1 dimensional (linear) to 2 dimensional matrix codes (symbol patterns). They have also branched into an ever-widening variety of industries, generally referred to as Auto ID Data Capture. They are now used for complex filing systems, patient identification, boarding passes even to track the mating habits of bees.

Recently, 2D barcodes have made their way into the social networking scene as apps have been developed for smart phones that enable users to easily scan a code and access information immediately. As I mentioned, you will, if you haven’t already, probably notice them popping up more often as the technology gathers wider user recognition. The two matrix codes receiving the most attention are QR codes & High Capacity Color Barcode.

QR Codes - also know as Quick Response codes- appear as a pattern of squares and were originally developed to track auto parts. However, in recent years they have been embraced by the smart phone industry as a means to quickly convey a lot of information. Using the phone’s camera you simply snap a shot of a QR code and the data within is brought up on your phone. Primarily use to exchange URLs, email, Twitter handles or other social networking information the codes have made their way into all sorts of printed medium.

Their ease of readability combined with the fact that it is free and equally easy to create your own QR code means we’re probably just seeing the beginning of their mark on the data transfer industry.

High Capacity Color Barcodes (HCCB) – also known as Microsoft Tags- are a Microsoft concept and look like a random pattern of colored triangles. Similar to QR codes HCCBs have gained marketshare because they are smart phone friendly. And, because the symbols incorporate a color palette they are capable of storing a lot more information. This allows them to encode much more than a few social networking links. In fact, I first noticed them when they were included in two magazines I subscribe to. In one the HCCB, once scanned, allowed me to watch how to properly attempt a new exercise. The other the HCCB popped up a movie trailer. Although they are a patented, and proprietary concept, HCCB are just as free and easy as a QR Code to acquire.

It is encouraging to see companies welcoming opportunities to build the link between print and digital media. Growing recognition of the potential for providing consumers with enhanced experiences in both formats is an indicator that print may not be as dead as many think.

There is something rather Orwellian about the increasingly probable chance that someday soon all of our personal information could be encoded in a tiny square symbol. For now though, I’ll happily scan and watch movie trailers and exercise videos. I encourage you to check them out and, if you too have a lot of information you want to quickly and easily disseminate these new barcode may be the product for you.