Stickybits, The QR Killer

Image by Chiara Marra

I’ve seen what I believe is one of the most exciting ‘AR’ technologies this year. Forget inhabitable Google maps and virtual skies (well, don’t forget them, but put them in the box marked ‘gadgets’). Stickybits lets people attach digital content to real world barcodes.

Yes, your everyday barcode. QR codes have been around for over a decade but they fall short on two counts:

  1. Reading a QR code requires you to install an application on your phone. Everyone who touts this service points to its popularity in Japan, but omits to mention that NTT Docomo, with its near monopoly on the Japanese market, can ensure QR readers are installed at base.
  2. QR codes offer little more than advertising content (which shouldn’t need me to install something). I’ve seen more than a hundred propositions that seek to use the QR code and pretty much every one of them goes along the lines of “put this code on a poster and an advertiser brand can send punters extra content”. Screw whether the punters want it, it plays to the more arrogant brand managers who see their world as the be-all of their customer’s lives.

But Stickybits is much, much more interesting.

  • Not sure whether this tin of tuna is cruelty free? Scan the barcode and look up the Greenpeace report.
  • Need to see if this book is suitable as a present for your father? See what other people of his age say about it.
  • Can’t choose between wines? See what other people say will go well with your dinner tonight.
  • Don’t know how to assemble the Welsh dresser you bought from Ikea? Watch a how-to video.
  • Want to know what you can cook with these Shitake mushrooms? Scan the barcode and grab some recipes.

Okay, so those last two were straight marketing activations, but they ride on the back of people’s engagement with your product, rather than assuming that the only reason anyone would scan for more info is to be a part of your marketing world.

What differentiates Stickybits from QR (and the half-dozen other similar services) is that it empowers the 1% of the population who likes to get actively involved in sharing their opinions. For people who like logging the world around them, this is going to be a great toy.

And everyone else can soak up these opinions and use them to help form their own decisions.

I tried this as an iPhone app. It pops up the camera window and asks you to align the barcode in the guides. The app automatically recognises it’s a barcode and scans it in.

If someone else has tagged content to this barcode, it shows me the list and lets me browse. I’m also asked if I want to attach my own photos, videos, audio, or comments to the barcode. That done, I can tag it with a shout to Foursquare, Facebook, or Twitter.

Real world social tools. Luvvit.

For some examples of how companies like Facebook and Starbucks plan to use QR, check out Facebook’s QR Code Leaks Linked to ‘Checking In’ on the excellent Mobile Barcode Innovation Center blog.


About Morgan Holt

Morgan Holt is senior strategist at Wolff Olins, the global game-changing brand consultancy. He is also chairman of the Branded Content Marketing Association, and a non-executive director of CN Media Group.

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