Ana Viseu on Thu, 4 May 2000 17:58:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> technologies that create hyperlinks for the physical world
May 4, 2000

Scan the Headlines?  No, Just the Bar Codes

Encoding Technologies for Newspapers and Magazines Link Printed Page to
Web Page

Readers of The Post and Courier, the daily newspaper in Charleston, S.C.,
may have noticed something peculiar about their paper this week.  Tiny
black marks, no wider or higher than a five-letter word in a news column,
have been appearing throughout the pages since Monday.  There is one under
the weather map, another on the masthead, still more at the top of the
business and local sections. 

These little symbols, which at first glance appear to be nothing more than
smudges, provide a direct link between the newspaper and the Internet. 
Each mark is a miniature Universal Product Code for a Web address.  When
those U.P.C.'s, or bar codes, are read by a handheld scanner connected to
a computer, a Web page pops up on the screen.  The bar code under the
weather map, for example, takes readers to the weather page on the
newspaper's Web site. 

Alan H.  Seim, director of Internet operations at The Post and Courier,
considers the bar codes a much-needed solution to a problem that
newspapers and their readers have been facing since the dawn of the Web:
the awkwardness of printing and typing (let alone remembering) a new Web

"You just beep on this thing and you're there," Mr. Seim said. 

But the tiny bar codes are more than just a print-based replacement for
long Web addresses.  They are one of several new technologies that create
hyperlinks for the physical world, establishing a direct connection
between static objects and the ever-changing Internet.  With these links,
magazines, books, postcards, product packages -- any imaginable artifacts
with room for bar codes -- could become on-ramps to Web pages that offer
related reports, movies, sound clips or online order forms. 

The Post and Courier is the first newspaper in the country to experiment
with the miniature-bar-code technology.  This month, Charleston residents
who sign up as testers will receive free handheld scanners so they can
activate the bar codes and jump straight to the corresponding Web sites. 
GoCode, the Charleston company that developed the technology, will also
put the codes in several catalogs in the next few months, and more free
handheld scanners will be distributed. 

By summer, observant readers of Wired magazine and Popular Mechanics may
spot another version of these offline links.  For them, the mark will not
be a smudgelike bar code but a small logo with an uppercase "D" lurking on
the lower outside corner of some pages.  The D stands for Digimarc, a
company that has developed a way to embed nearly imperceptible digital
watermarks in printed text and photographs.  When held up to a Webcam
perched on a monitor, the watermarks tell the computer to display related
Web pages. 

In June, Digimarc will offer free software that can be downloaded and
integrated with software for the Webcams.  By summer's end, company
officials say, most Webcam manufacturers will have integrated the Digimarc
software into their products.  The company, meanwhile, is hoping to have
signed contracts with more than 100 magazines that will use the

Bar codes of other shapes and sizes may also dot the pages of print
publications soon.  Belo, a media company in Dallas, announced that it
would incorporate bar codes into some of the pages of its newspapers,
which include The Dallas Morning News and The Providence Journal in Rhode
 A bar code reader developed by DigitalConvergence.:Com, a hyperlink
company, will be distributed to read those symbols and translate them into
Web pages that appear on the screen. 

Belo's 17 television stations are also considering a version of the
technology that uses sounds instead of symbols.  To open a Web page, a
television program could emit an audible tone that would send a signal to
a computer that was connected to the television via audio cables. 

Those who have experimented with off line links say that they have
potential to change the way people approach the Web.  Until now, people
who see a printed Web address have had to jot it down, tear out the
corresponding page or try to remember the Web site's top-level domain name
so they can search the site later.  And once they remember to visit the
sites, they often have to dig through multiple Web pages to find what they
want.  According to Internet analysts, most people give up after three or
four clicks. 

But with digital watermarks or bar codes, a printed page will have
"embedded intelligence," said Guy Creese, a senior analyst at the Aberdeen
Group, a strategic consulting company.  Mr. Creese saw a demonstration of
Digimarc's technology a month ago. 

"It strikes me as an intriguing way to handle the information overload
problem," Mr. Creese said.  "It really brings impulse buying and searching
to a new level." 

Anything that increases the possibility of impulse buying is bound to
attract advertisers.  Ford Motor Company, for example, is preparing to
include Digimarc's technology in full-page advertisements in both Wired
and Popular Mechanics.  At least 10 other advertisers, including Visa and
Sony, are also planning to test the technology. 

But before offline linking enters the mainstream, it must clear a hardware
hurdle.  Handheld scanners or Webcams will have to become as ubiquitous as
computers, analysts say.  GoCode is trying to make that happen by giving
away scanners that are sponsored by advertisers and that will come with
buttons that take users to the sponsors' Web sites. 
DigitalConvergence.:Com has a similar idea.  And Digimarc is hoping that
the growing popularity of Webcams will give it an edge. 

But even if people have the right equipment, companies face another
problem: getting people to make the technology part of their routine. 

"The downside is that you have to teach someone to use it," said David
Cooperstein, a research director at Forrester Research, after seeing a
demonstration of GoCode's technology.  People will have to be shown that
the bar code "is not just a smudge on the page," he said. 

Mr. Seim, of The Post and Courier, is aware of those issues.  But his
newspaper is prepared to take on the challenge in exchange for the chance
to offer a cutting-edge service to its readers.  A regional paper with a
daily circulation of 110,000, The Post and Courier has been trying with
mixed success to integrate the newspaper and its Web site. 

Most of the stories on the site, Mr. Seim said, are "shovelware," digital
versions of exactly what appears in the paper. 

But with the advent of the bar codes, the newspaper has more incentive to
include updated news and weather reports on its Web site.  While printed
Uniform Resource Locators, or U.R.L.'s, have always given ambitious
readers an invitation to the Web site, the bar codes provide a much easier
way to make the connection, Mr. Seim said.  With a scanner in hand, going
to the Web becomes part of the reading experience. 

"The goal is to keep the readers involved with you and your site," Mr.
Seim said.  "People might like to find out, for example, what happened
with Elián González since the time the page was printed." 

Classified advertising is another area of the newspaper that will take
advantage of the technology.  Mr. Seim hopes that the paper's staff will
soon start using software that will automatically convert new U.R.L.'s to
bar codes during the production process.  (He now uses static bar codes
that are set for specific Web sites.)  Once that happens, the classified
advertising section will be specked with the bar codes.  A two-line pitch
about a used car could immediately link to the seller's Web site, complete
with photographs, references and details about the car's maintenance

Popular Mechanics is planning to add more timely content to its Web site
to take advantage of the digital watermarks that will first appear in its
August issue.  Jay McGill, the magazine's publisher, said he expected at
least three or four feature articles, as well as nearly a dozen
advertisements, to have the watermarks embedded within them. 

For example, the magazine has been running a monthly column about the
progress of a Nascar racing team.  By the time the magazine is published,
the columns are out of date because magazine writers usually work several
weeks ahead of publication dates.  But once the column is embedded with an
offline link, it can transport people directly to the Web site of the
magazine, which will start offering weekly updates. 

"We think it will change the dynamic of how we edit the magazine and
relationships with our readers," Mr. McGill said.  He added that when he
first saw the technology and observed how fast Web pages opened after
simply holding the magazine up to the Webcam, "I just went, Wow, we have
to have this." 

Mr. McGill added, however, that in addition to the requirement of Webcams,
offline links are burdened with another drawback: people have to take the
magazines to their computers to gain access to the Web sites. 

Still, some analysts are optimistic that advances in wireless technology
in the next year will make the concept viable.  If the bar codes and
watermarks could be scanned and stored by a wireless device instead of by
a scanner or Webcam tethered to the computer, they would be more useful. 

Better yet, if the marks could be scanned by a device that talked to a
personal digital assistant with wireless Internet service, people could
gain access to the sites they were reading about while there were on the
subway -- or on the couch. 

"Getting this bolted into a P.D.A. makes a lot of sense," said Mr. Creese,
of the Aberdeen Group. 

Regardless of how the technology emerges, the founders of the companies
creating offline links are envisioning broader applications for their
products.  Bruce Davis, chief executive and president of Digimarc, said
that he was working toward a day when digital watermarks would be embedded
in books, CD's, bank cards and direct mail. 

T. B.  Pickens, the founder of GoCode, has begun distributing business
cards that contain his bar code.  By the end of the month, people who
receive his card and scan the code will be able to import his contact
information directly into Outlook, Microsoft's address book, with one
click.  Even more personal data, like credit card numbers and a shipping
address, are also embedded in the bar code for Mr. Pickens's use.  He
unlocks the sensitive data by scanning his business card and then scanning
a house key that features a sticker with a corresponding bar code.  When
both are scanned together, Mr. Pickens can fill in online order forms with
a few clicks. 

I. B.M. and Palm Computing are also testing the prospects of offline
 The companies are working with a Safeway grocery store in England that
has provided Palm P.D.A.'s equipped with built-in scanners to more than
500 of its customers.  When the customers scan the bar codes on the
packages of any products they are running out of -- whether soup cans or
cereal boxes -- the computer adds those products to digital grocery lists. 
The system uses the Internet to send each list to Safeway, where employees
collect and package the products so they can be picked up by the customer. 

For now, though, officials at The Post and Courier say they are excited to
be one of the first publications trying out the technology, even if it
means that their newspaper is specked with tiny black rectangles. 

"We think it could be a breakthrough on how to connect the reader of the
printed word to the Internet," said Larry Tarleton, associate publisher of
The Post and Courier.  "And a lot of people are trying to figure that

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