One of the problems print publications have had in trying to expand into digital space is the difficulty of linking content on the paper page with content online. When we launched the digital home of the Mercury News on AOL 15 years ago, there was no convenient way of directing the newspaper reader to, say, an expanded online version of a news brief, so we assigned “bingo numbers” to the stories we posted. Each brief in the paper would be followed by a number like B321, and by plugging that number in the site search, the reader could pop up the story. Crude, but effective. Things got a lot more complicated a couple years later when we migrated the paper to the Web. The paper printed all the URLs, but it was a lot to expect of the reader — saving the paper until a computer was convenient, then typing a long address.
At the turn of the century, a company called Digital Convergence Corp. tried another approach with its CueCat, a home scanner that attached to your computer and was used to read bar codes included in print advertisements; scanning the code would take you to the desired Web page. The required purchase of hardware, along with security issues, the hooting of critics and general public indifference, eventually sent the CueCat out with the litter.
Now Google’s taking another whack at the problem, working on bar codes that can be photographed by a cell phone and translated by software to pull up a specific Web page. Despite the CueCat jokes, the idea has some potential advantages, particularly its use of existing hardware and the analytics that Google could provide the advertisers. But until Google’s dream of an open wireless platform takes shape, it would need the handset makers and wireless carriers to agree to include the software, then teach both advertisers and consumers how it all works. You can never dismiss a Google initiative out of hand, so most of the blogosphere is willing to play wait and see, but skepticism abounds.
Posted by John Murrell at 12:13 pm