An Interesting New Publishing Model
Microsoft's Billion (Users)

Enhancing Print Content

Barcode Does anyone remember the ill-fated CueCat barcode scanners that supposedly were going to change how we interact with print content?  You'd see a code in a magazine, scan it with the CueCat connected to your computer and your browser would automatically go to related content.  The idea didn't work, mostly (I believe) because we rarely read magazines, newspapers, books, etc., when we're right next to our computer.  It wasn't a portable solution.

The iPhone, on the other hand, is a portable solution and the built-in camera offers the ability to read least in theory.  I played around a bit this morning with an iPhone barcode reader app called NeoReader and got mixed results at best.  Even if the technology is currently far from perfect, the concept is interesting and the capabilities will improve over time.

Wouldn't it be cool to embed small barcodes throughout magazines, newspapers and books so that when a reader snaps a picture of them with their iPhone it loads a video showing more information about that topic?  You're making a recipe from a cookbook and you're not quite sure which ingredients get mixed together first.  Grab your iPhone, take a picture of the barcode next to the recipe and watch a short video of how the dish is made.

Better yet, how many times have you pulled your hair out trying to assemble a child's toy, a piece of furniture or any one of a zillion other products with lousy documentation?  What if all these vendors were to create short videos of each step and make them accessible via barcode scans right in the doc?  If you're not a visual learner you can continue using the awful written instructions; the rest of us will gladly reach for our iPhones to see how it's done!

You've undoubtedly noticed that I'm biased towards one particular platform, mostly because in less than two weeks I too have become one of those annoying iPhone snobs.  In reality though, what I'm describing could work for any phone with a camera and video playback capabilities.

The difference between this and the CueCat is that I almost always have my iPhone handy and I can easily make sure it's next to whatever project I'm currently working on.  It's an interesting model because it doesn't cost any more from a printing perspective.  And while there's a cost associated with creating and hosting the videos, this opens the door for new sponsorships and/or advertising revenue streams, not to mention a much richer reader/user experience.  (I'm not sure how it's paying off for them but the Pandora iPhone app interface is a nice model for sponsorship income, at least from a user point of view.)


Book Calendar

I would imagine in the future they could have small plastic memory tabs which you could peel off of a magazine and stick in an iphone or computer to get a video or some other media content.

I find the idea of bar codes a little disconcerting. It reminds me a little bit too much of supermarket checkouts.


I have followed the mobile code reading space over the years with great interest and intrigue. In particular, a company by the name of NeoMedia Technologies -- Developers of the popular NeoReader.

During Web 1.0, a company by the name of Digital Convergence licensed the patents of NeoMedia Technologies to facilitate the launch of the "CueCat.
The :CueCat was a revolutionary product launched back in 2000 that came way before its time. It had tremendous disruptive potential from a technology standpoint, but the drawback with the :CueCat was that it was a "tethered" device -- meaning the user could only scan barcodes while seated in front of their personal computer. The customer had no mobility and could not take the device with them.

Flash forward to today, mobile barcode reading is an everyday part of the popular culture in Japan and Korea. The technology is just now beginning to emerge in Europe with North America not too far behind.

Cheers :)

Michael A. Banks

Another excellent idea you ought to patent, but are giving to the world!

Make a limited concept unlimited by portability. Perhaps someone is working on it.

K Oland

Another big difference between the two (and one of the real reasons for the failure of the CueCat, at least as far as delivered to the end customer and the company) is that the CueCat was a thinly disguised method of getting you to fill in personal and demographic information, which was to be sold off, both as is and linked to everything you scanned. Every scan had your CueCat's hardware ID number linked in with the barcode and had to be interpreted thru the CueCat software, which is how they did tracked your scans.

The CueCat hardware itself, though, still lives. Warehouses full remained when the company died and you can purchase jailbroke versions that only scan barcodes and return the info as clear text and these are USB versions, unlike most of the very old PS2 keyboard versions, although you can (very carefully) jailbreak those as well. For roughly $15 you get a handy barcode scanner for your laptop, that while not as portable as a phone (iphone/ipod touch or any windows based phone would work for your vision -- although it would also provide a handy opportunity for the same demographic/advertising tracking that CueCat envisioned), works very well for apps such as LibraryThing, letting you catalog your library very quickly.


Japan has been doing this for quite a while now.

They are very convenient and fun to play with. My nine year old host brother would use programs to turn data into these little codes and show them off to me. They are also a very convenient form of advertising. Put a QR code on a poster and people don't need to search for anything. They simply need to snap a picture with their cell and all they need to know comes up for them.

Jonathan Dozier-Ezell

Even something as simple as linking the barcode to a Google search would increase content distribution without increasing costs a bit. There are enough videos on YouTube for popular products that companies could link in a similar way without cost. And after all, who better to provide video expertise than a client who used a product, found its associated literature utterly lacking, and decided to create a method of his own?


@Jonathan: you might be interested in reading this post ( on the Google Book Search blog. They added a tool available for download on Android-powered phones in order to do just that. It opens up the GBS page corresponding to the book you're scanning the barcode, on your mobile phone. I see it as the missing link between the brick-and-mortar book shop and the web...

Francis Hamit

Dear Joe:

"The Shenandoah Spy" is the first part of a series of novels about the Confederate Secret Service and the women who were its most effective agents. It started out to be one. The I got to page 883 on the first draft and was no farther on the time line than August 1862, That draft included not just the story currently available about Belle Boyd, but a contemporaneous one about Rose Greenhow and her ring of society women spies in Washington DC. Moreover readers found going back and forth between the two stories confusing, and you never want to confuse the audience. It's rude.

The bar-code link to additional material sounds neat, but how many people are really going to use it? It's a facility for researchers, not casual readers, and part of what I call the Engineer's Disease -- the idea that just because something can be done, it should and will be done and there is money to be made. The path of communications technology is littered with dead devices that followed this idea.

What would be useful for the phone barcode solution would be a software solution that would open up the reviews of a book in the brick and mortar space so that a buyer could see what the response has been. I'm surprised that Amazon has not already done this. Sure they have reviews on the web page in their system for every book, but first you have to find the page. Being able to scan the barcode on the back
or input the ISBN on the keyboard and have all of the reviews come up would be a really near, convenient feature -- or would it? One bookstore owner of my acquaintance told me not to bring the paper sheets with all of the five star reviews of "The Shenandoah Spy" because people don't read them. Their buying decision comes from looking at the cover and the blurbs on the back according to him.

Sales of the book in the online world are very slow because of the economy right now. So where are we getting our sales? At signings in brick and mortar bookstores (see and at table events like the Civil War Roundtable meetings, which are a very targeted market. The idea here is not so much a volume of sales per se, but to create a cadre of people who have read and enjoyed the book and will tell others about it. Interestingly enough, most people who buy the book at our book signings buy it as a gift for someone else. Some buy multiple copies. The mystique of the signed copy is powerful indeed.

For the casual reader, looking only to be entertained, the barcode insert will be, at best, an annoyance. Dedicated researchers will love it because it will save them time.

In fiction, it does offer the possibility of a different kind of narrative; one built on a matrix pattern rather than a linear presentation with a beginning, middle and end per the Poetics of Aristotle. However each section would have to be short and stand alone. Embedded links on electronic text might make for a interesting experiment and there were a few such novels back in the 60s and 70s, where you skipped around rather than read straight through, but the form did not catch on. It might be different for a generation raised on computer games.

Arron Ross Powell is using Kindle to beta test a novel..and getting paid for it. On Amazon Kindle my own novel has sold very poorly which I attribute to a small installed base and too many titles available from the public domain at 99 cents each. Hard to compete for casual readers with the Classics.

Here is a link to his site of you want details:


Shinji (who lives next to me) was actually talking about this. He goes to Japan often and mentioned how their cell phone technology was further ahead and how a lot of their printed media had bar codes to scan for that reason

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