:CueCat: Right Question, Wrong Answer

About six years ago, the Dallas-based Belo Corporation (owner of the ProJo) was pilloried for sinking many millions into a computer peripheral known as the :CueCat. Basically, the idea was that newspaper readers would keep a scanner close at hand to read printed bar codes, thereby linking them with other information. Just about everyone but Belo and its fellow investors realized this was impractical and silly, and, not surprisingly, the concept flopped.

An intriguing story in yesterday's New York Times, headlined "In a New Web World, Bar Codes May Talk With Your Cellphone," shows how the :CueCat proponents were searching in the right direction. This cellphone concept has caught on in Japan. Expect to see more and more of it in the US:

Until now, in most parts of the world, Web surfing has been separate from everyday activities like riding the train, watching television and driving. But the new technology may erode that distinction.

“You’ve picked up this product, and you don’t want to go back to your PC,” said Tim Kindberg, a senior research at the Bristol, England, lab of Hewlett-Packard. “Or you’re outside this building, and you want more information. We call it the ‘physical hyperlink.’ ”

In much the same way that Web publishing took off because of the ability to link to other people’s sites, cellphone technologies linking everyday objects with the Web would reveal the digitally encoded attributes of tangible things on grocery shelves or newsstands.

“Everything in the physical world has information related to it somewhere electronically, including yourself and the desk you’re sitting in,” said Chas Fritz, chief executive of NeoMedia Technologies, a company developing these cellphone capacities.

The most promising way to link cellphones with physical objects is a new generation of bar codes: square-shaped mosaics of black and white boxes that can hold much more information than traditional bar codes. The cameras on cellphones scan the codes, and then the codes are translated into videos, music or text on the phone screens.

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