[Dave Birch] The identity of stuff, as much as the identity of people, is part of the digital identity landscape. One of the important technology threads, then, is the connection between the real and virtual identities of stuff. We’ve tended to think about RFID as the principal path, which it is, but there’s life in the old optical barcode yet. Microsoft, for example, has been working on a 2D coloured barcode (using colours means you can store more data than in black and white) which is now going to appear on DVD and video game cases later this year, thanks to a licensing deal with the ISAN International Agency. The Geneva-based organization assigns International Standards Audiovisual Numbers (ISANs) to movies and other works, and keeps a database about each title. Once ISAN-IA starts issuing the barcodes, then the publishers will be able to link products to web sites through that database. ISAN-IA and Microsoft imagine a day when consumers could use digital cameras to “scan” barcodes on DVD cases, in advertisements and on billboards, then be transported to a web page to watch trailers or buy products. As it happens, I’ve had this software on my Mac for a couple of years. It’s called Delicious Library: it allows your Mac to read the barcodes on books and things (using any old Firewire camera) and then go off to the web and look them up. Look: I’ve just scanned the barcode on the book on my desk and this is what comes up.

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Interestingly, Microsoft have said that digital cameras and webcams will be needed for the scanning because the cameras in mobile phones can’t take a good enough picture, which is a shame. This does, however, confirm our experiences with implementing software to read 2D barcodes using camera phones (for a project for a mobile operator a couple of years ago). We did get it working, but it took a lot of code because the image processing software has to make so many corrections for the distance and angle. With a mobile phone these are very variable and therefore a lot of hassle. Frankly, once you seen NFC working (I’ve got some NFC stickers on the back of some of my business cards so that when you touch them with a phone, it rings me) you’ll lose interest in barcodes in that environment pretty quickly.

ISAN is a fairly new and completely voluntary system and previous efforts to connect barcodes to the web have failed (remember CueCat) so who knows whether this wilkl catch on. What it does indicate, though, is that the “tagging” of real world items so that we can google spacetime (as the phrase goes) is a significant and inevitable trends.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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