I think the time for Microsoft’s “Tag” technology is now and here’s why: How many times have you stood in a grocery store or electronics store (having been spoiled by Internet shopping) with a product in your hand and wondered, “Is this thing any good?” How many times have you whipped out your mobile phone, opened the browser, and typed in a Google search for that item to look for reviews. If you’re like me, you’d answer ‘never.’ Now, how about if you could whip out your mobile, open an application and take a picture of a bar code and be instantly transferred to more product information. You’d at least give it a shot, no?
That’s the thinking behind Microsoft’s “Tag” beta technology. The online service will associate a colorful square tag to any site on the web and offer you several formats to include the graphic on the backs of products, business cards, and product or service literature. Imagine if all of those envelopes full of those coupons you receive in the mail were tagged. With one click of your phone camera, you could carry any and all of those coupons in your pocket and show them to the pimply kid behind the counter at the Gap, or Dominoes, or the IHOP or wherever.
For the traveling salesman, imagine a tag on the back of your business card. Those of you who have ever been to or worked a trade show know what I’m talking about. You probably used to carry around glossy folders and pamphlets, then CD’s with all sorts of information on them, and then it changed to flash drives. Now, in a world of cost-cutting, imagine making all of that available to your customer for the cost of some color ink on a card that already exists. Probably not right for every transaction but you know it would make the accountants happy. And frankly, do people really care about the ubiquitous pens, t-shirts, bags, CD’s and flash drives at trade shows anymore? Not to mention, there’s nothing to ship. Cheaper, immediate and interactive? As you can tell, I’m intrigued.
The icing on the cake (and admittedly the possible source of some problems) is the way that MS is going about offering this. It’s in beta at this point but it’s free. Anyone with a “Windows Live” account can set up a tag for a web address. There’s even supposed to be built-in support for existing, non MS bar codes included in future releases. The mobile application download itself is free and works on several different phone platforms – Windows Mobile and the iPhone included.
One more thing – it’s FAST. On my HTC Touch Diamond 2, you barely even get the tag into the crosshairs and you’re transported to the web page. No fumbling with a crummy onscreen keyboard, no scrolling through a Google search. This is instant gratification.
The one downside I see is that at its core, this is just more marketing. Do we really need that? I’m pretty sure we don’t. On the other hand, if some trusted review site would give tags to merchants to have on the racks (or, for example, have tags on Wal-Mart store shelves lead to product reviews on Walmart.com) then it might be really useful to the consumer, no? We don’t necessarily trust big political parties or big corporations anymore but we haven’t totally given up on our neighbors. Window’s Tag should totally work to leverage that zeitgeist.
The fact is, about three years ago, I was walking home after a night out with my wife and had one of those “why hasn’t anybody invented this” conversations. Now, it’s here. I say, it’s about time. Tag it up, peeps.