Sunday, July 9, 2006

WINKsite: fusing the mobile and Web worlds through barcodes

04 may 2006

You all know my fascination with WINKsite, a really versatile service for building mobile Web sites that fits into the mobile lifestyle. It's simple, easy to adapt to any region, makes it easy for folks to connect (and there's more it can do there, still), is fueled by the users, and works on a wide range of devices (from PCs to basic phones to advanced phones). And, what is really important to me, it caters to something that previously could not be done – it lets regular folks easily build their own mobile world and interact with other similar mobile people.

I've been using an N93 for a few months now and I was a bit disappointed that my WINKsite ( wasn't working in my new souped-up phone browser. This wasn't unexpected, since new phones usually send out different headers and such, causing mobile sites to cough at the unknown browser. But, in this case, I knew I could do something about it and started troubleshooting with Dave Harper, the big kahoona at WINKsite.

Well, suffice it to say, with tips from Nokia browser guru, Franklin Davis, we were able to get it all back in line. But, an off-hand comment from Dave regarding barcodes really got us rolling.

Barcodes, anyone? As you may remember, WINKsite has been doing some interesting stuff with barcodes. Well, it so happens that the N93 comes with a barcode reader.

Of course, Dave and I needed to test it out.

He sent me two 2D codes (QR and Datamatrix, left and right below), and not just any codes, but the very codes that would open up my WINKsite.


Bada bing bada boom, it worked so well:

- flip open the phone and start the barcode scanning app - select 'scan code' - then up comes a really cool view finder that uses the main high-res camera - bang, it took a blink of an eye to catch the code (it actually zooms in if it is too small) - then it shows me the link, all selected and ready to click - click and boom, the browser opens up

That's so cool so cool so cool.

Here are some screen shots. These are in the wrong view. You actually use the app in landscape (phone in main camera imaging mode), but my screen grabber only works in portrait (keypad dependency, long story).

1main_screen 2catching_code 3code_captured

And here's what's cooler: You know that taking a pic of a regular CRT monitor gets those black raster bars (point any digital camera at a TV and you'll know what I mean)? Well, the barcode reader changes the refresh of the camera to minimize the lines (they become light gray) to better catch the code. Takes a bit longer, but it works. The QR code was picked up no problem. I had to do the Datamatrix code twice before it caught.

So kewl!

Ok, so you gotta be a geek to like that trick. But, it means that codes can be read from practically any source – TV, computer, poster, biz card, t-shirt, and maybe tattoo.

Now you're seeing what I'm seeing. Now you can start to see what Dave is up to.

The real story Why are barcodes important to the mobile world? First of all, barcodes are everywhere. They are used for making things easily machine readable. Second, cameraphones are proliferating at a prodigious pace. The quality of the cameras is good enough to read barcodes. Put those two together and you get, the third, more relevant, point, barcodes provide a link between the physical and digital world. Scott Shaffer has a bazillion examples, such as this one. Go browse his site for more.

So what does it mean for the WINKsite user, like, uh, me?

It's a great way for me to promote my mobile site from the physical world, to provide access in a way that doesn't require me to forward a link or have someone type it out. Dave has a great review of how QR codes are used in Japan. As he says, 'QR Codes have become the door to the mobile Internet for the average mobile user'.

WINKsite is providing tools that make it easy for WINKsite publishers to create a barcode and display it, either on their website or on printed materials. Like Dave says, it completes the cycle from digital to real and back – ‘create mobile space, distribute code, people see code, scan and visit’.

WINKsite already has a widget for TypePad the displays the WINKsite chat rooms and such. A widget for TypePad with the barcodes will be huge! (exclamation point from Dave) Right now I have a link on the upper right of my site that opens up my WINKsite in a small window for a PC-based browser. But, I want to get my link into someone's phone, not PC. If I had a code folks could just point to and scan (and now I do, but put in manually), that would be so much easier.

It's all about the fusion of the mobile with the Web and this is a great example. Dave calls it 'Converging "Realspace" and "Mobilespace"'.

WINKsite is now a universally accessible mobile site that's connected to the physical world through barcodes. To me, the hardest part was how to build the mobile site that gets visited once someone scanned in a URL via a barcode. WINKsite now solves that, leading to a long list of ideas of what can be done (listening Monty?):

Taken from Dave's list of suggestions:

* linking print articles to RSS feeds and blogs * delivering product or tourist information * linking "lost pet" flyers to contact forms * dating - use your imagination on that one * "find me" maps * promoting an event or concert on flyers/postcards * connecting geocachers to mobile logbooks * creating museum exhibits and street tours * building scavenger hunts or "collect-them-all" games * downloading ringtones, music, wallpapers or video (think indie artists) * ticket sales for clubs * directing people to your mobile site or storefront * enabling mobile sales from catalogs or flyers * distributing coupons * conference badges connected to profiles * business cards connected to company sites * signing up to text alert services * running competitions * connecting mix tapes to podcasts or vidcasts * connecting posters to podcasts or vidcasts * enabling community interaction at public locations

The next steps So, Dave is taking care of the problem of how to create the barcodes and what they point to (the mobile sites). The next hurdle will be to get folks to be able to read them. QR codes are popular in Japan because the readers are already integrated with the phone. I had tried before to load the apps from Semacode and others, trying to turn my phone into a barcode reader. But I had little luck. Now that Nokia is basically rolling in a universal (or at least versatile) barcode reader into their phones (I don’t know which others), the clever use of barcodes should increase.

Users and providers still need information how to use the code, such as what size can be used, some demos, info and demo links, and usability issues. I am sure Dave would be more than willing (as would I) to help folks, such as print publishers like Burda Media, Time Inc., or McGraw-Hill (to name a few), make that physical to digital connection via mobile phones for their customers. Mabe that's fodder for futher posts here.

Parting thoughts Dave is all excited. He’s experimenting to see what happens when you mix easy to create mobile sites, with easy to create barcodes, with easy to use mobile phones with barcode readers.

'What will happen now,' Dave asks, and I think he nails it, 'when we let winksiters create micro content embedded in barcodes that they can distribute via secret codes?'

Secret codes. Indeed.

That should be interesting.


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» 2D barcodes will rule the earth from Tommi's S60 applications blog I noticed that the user manual of Nokia N93 mentioned our barcode reader application on page 109, so I guess it is safe for me to write about this subject. Here is a 2D barcode in Data Matrix format that... [Read More]

» 2D barcodes will rule the earth from Tommi's S60 applications blog I noticed that the user manual of Nokia N93 mentioned our barcode reader application on page 109, so I guess it is safe for me to write about this subject. Here is a 2D barcode in Data Matrix format that... [Read More]


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