What you need to know about Microsoft Tag – The Hyperlink for the Real World

There is hardly a billboard, poster or newspaper today that does not have a URL on it now for pointing people to more information. The obvious problem with this is that busy people simply don’t have the time to remember or write down a URL’s. Well Microsoft have a solution to this problem that they have dubbed Microsoft “Tag”. The tag is simply a 2D barcode (colour or black & white) that you take a photo of with your phone that can be used to quickly get a URL, Text, Contact or even start dialling a phone number.

So how does it work?
Information is encoded in the The actual information in the Tag image has just enough information encoded in it to point your phone to the Microsoft hosted servers that contain the information. This does mean that Microsoft Tag will only work on devices that have an Internet connection but this is normally not a problem now as almost all phone have some sort of a wireless data connection. For the tag creator having an always connected model actually has some advantages:

URL or information for a tag that is already printed can be changed
Usage reports can be done to see how many time the tag is scanned
In some situation the GPS location can be sent to see where the person was when they scanned the tag
As this video explains below shows these tag’s are now showing up on in all sorts of place such as signs, posters, magazines & even web sites.

Certainly the Vision that Microsoft has with Microsoft Tag is that this will be as immersive and natural experience that is just part of everyday life. The video below shows how the vision that Microsoft has with the tag and how it can be used in help people in everyday life.

How to use a Microsoft Tag?
By now you are probably thinking that this sounds really great however you probably own an iPhone or Nokia phone so there is no way you could use a “Microsoft” tag. Well…. This is the great news. Microsoft realises that for this to get a critical mass to become really popular then they need to get the Tag “reader” on as many devices to achieve as possible.

Therefore Microsoft have released a reader for ALL the mobile phone platforms:

Android
Blackberry
iPhone
PalmOS
Nokia
Windows Mobile (of course)
Java (the rest)
To get the client for you phone simple open the web site http://gettag.mobi using your phone’s mobile browser and it will auto detect your device and provide you a link for the client for your device (see image below).

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To see a full list of supported devices just open http://gettag.mobi from your PC’s browser.

How do you make a Microsoft Tag?
So you want to make a tag just go to the http://tag.microsoft.com/ and logon with a Live ID passport and then click the “Create a Tag” button.

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Now you enter in a title for the tag and select the “type” of Tag you want.

The four type are:

URL – This opens a specific URL on the phones browser
Free Text – This just display text on the phone
vCard – This retrieves a vCard contact file to the phone to add to your address book. You can either specify an existing vCard or you can fill out the contact field and let Microsoft make one dynamically.
Dialer – This option will dial a specific phone number. Such as sales or info hotline.
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Once you have created a tag you are taking back main screen where you can review the tag you have just created.

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Now to get the tag image to use click on the small example tag ( image) to generate image file.

Select the file type you want to use then the tag image style and then click “Render”.

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Note: You can create a variety of image types (even a PDF) and there is even a Black & White option for non-colour publications.

Microsoft Tag Examples
All of the below example will take you to http://www.smartergeek.info

Compact with Download Instructions

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Plain Colour

Plain Black and White

Smarter_Geek_2010229244 Smarter_Geek_20102291923
Full Frame with Download Instructions
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Microsoft Tag Usage Report
Now that you have created your tags and you have published them somewhere for people to use how can you be sure that people are actually scanning this tag image… Well as I mentioned before when someone scan’s a tag it retrieves the information from Microsoft servers this way you can track the number of time their tag is scanned.

The reporting section (in fact the whole site) is a Silverlight control that will generate custom graphs for the tag or even more useful allow you to export the data to an Excel spreadsheet.

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(Clearly I don’t have much data yet)

Overall Impressions
One key problem with the service is the fact it is completely dependant on the Internet being active as well as the Microsoft servers being online. Now the product is still in Beta but the longevity of the product should not be an issues as Microsoft have committed to keeping the service alive for at least 2 year and seeing there was a recent CNET video (see top video) of Brent Ingraham (Program Manager, Microsoft Tag) I say its a pretty safe bet its here for a long while yet…

Microsoft Tag reader clearly addresses the problem of having to remember URL’s, phone numbers or even just a few word printed in locations in the real world (and sometime virtual). I think that if tags become as ubiquitous as printed URL’s then this could really be one of the most useful everyday applications ever made.

What I am also very keen to see if there will a native Tag reader include with Windows Mobile 7 that is going to be announced in a few weeks… stay tuned.