Microsoft: Tag It!


Finally, Microsoft does something right in mobile. But success will take lots of marketing and customer engagement – and that might not even be enough.

Today, Microsoft released beta version of Tag, which essentially is a mobile barcode product/service. Microsoft makes it easy for just about anyone – and that means you and me – to create a Tag. Concept is simple: Each Tag represents some kind of information (typically a Web link) revealed when photographed with a mobile phone’s camera.

I was amused to see early, negative commentaries about Tag. Over at Silicon Alley, title to Eric Krangel’s blog post refers to Microsoft Tag as “another useless iPhone app“. He writes: “We’re a bit sceptical on tagging: We’ve never seen a mobile tag, not sure if we’d be bothered to use one if we did, and think typing in a URL or web search is a pretty good way to find content on our mobile devices.”

Like many other bloggers and journalists writing about Tag, Eric got sucked into the iPhone vortex. Over at TechCrunch, Robin Wauters joined Eric, calling Tag Microsoft’s “second iPhone app”.

While it’s true that Tag is Microsoft’s second iPhone application, the software/service supports multiple mobile operating systems. I downloaded Tag for my Nokia N96, which runs Symbian S60. From the Tag Website, I entered my phone number and received a text message with download link. The application correctly identified the phone as N96 before installing.

Blogs and news stories focusing on the iPhone app say more about the writers than Microsoft. Are they all using iPhones? I do wonder.

Over at ReadWriteWeb, Frederic Lardinois gives an excellent description of how Tag works before offering this sceptical assessment: “We have seen too many similar projects fail to be too optimistic about this one.”

The pundits are all wrong, by the way. Tag is a smart software/service, whether or not it succeeds. I do believe Tag can succeed if Microsoft puts some marketing behind it, starting with tagging its own products, print advertisements and outdoor hoardings.

Sure, there are lots of barcode options out there, but traditional matrix ones are two dimensional. Microsoft Research developed what the company calls “High Capacity Colour Barcodes”. According to the Tag Website: “On many camera phones, you just have to aim the camera at the Tag—it is instantly recognised and you are whisked directly to the linked content.”

On my phone, I launched Tag, which activated the phone’s camera. I didn’t need to take a picture. As soon as I pointed at the Tag, the application recognised the barcode and, for this one, whisked me to download the application. Smooth.

What’s right about Tag:

  • Tag might as well be poster product for Microsoft’s software-plus-services strategy. You’ve got software on the phone connecting to Web services.
  • Windows Mobile is an also-ran, and will be at least until Microsoft releases a good Web browser for the operating system. There’s no reason why the OS has to be the end-all of Microsoft’s mobile strategy. The company should release compelling applications/services for all major mobile operating systems – and with extra benefits connected to other Microsoft products.
  • Microsoft is a big seller of software to the small business market, where the company offers point-of-sale products. Microsoft has put in the plumbing and means for creating Tag barcodes. The small business merely needs to use Tag and promote it.
  • If there are any people with sense working for Microsoft, Tag will tap into Live Search and Microsoft’s advertising platform. Why take the time to Google when you can Tag, simply by snapping a picture? Google search will tell you where something is, while Tag gives lots of more information about the thing with the Microsoft barcode.

My mind boggles at the uses:

  • Tagged pizza coupons in local advertising could open mobile Website for ordering, with the discount already applied to the order.
  • Jack Frost is trying to get elected onto a university committee. Tagged posters on notice boards throughout the school could provide information about his campaign, or video and audio clips.
  • Somebody likes the music, but isn’t sure what band is playing on the video monitor at the a high street shop or fast food restaurant. A persistent Tag could provide the information and link to buy the song from the mobile phone.

Oh could I go on with ideas. Some advice to Microsoft:

  • Put a Tag link on all your Web properties, particularly where there is social interaction. Make it easy for people to get to where they can create their own tags for Facebook, Windows Messenger, the blog or anywhere else.
  • Place Tags everywhere you can – Websites, advertisements, video games, etc., etc.
  • Coordinate with major publisher(s) to hold a “Tag It” contest that rewards people for Tagging.
  •  Make something useful out of that silly “Softwear” store by offering people custom Tees with personalised Tags. If people want to know about you, they can take a picture of your Tagged Tee to find out.

Microsoft could and should put some marketing muscle behind Tags, which have the potential to become first a fad and from there the new standard for barcodes. The potential to succeed is great, but so is it to fail. So to you, Microsoft, I say: Tag, your it!