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:CueCat concept lives! Consumers yawn

CueCat and Cross Pen Scanner

Back in 2001, I reported on how the Belo Corporation, owner of the ProJo, was among the corporate entities convinced they had the next big thing:

Belo, which bills itself as the nation's ninth largest media corporation, was far from alone in its grand expectations for Digital:Convergence's signature product, the :CueCat -- a bar code scanner that attaches to computers -- and related software that can link televised "cues" with particular destinations on the World Wide Web. Belo plans to sink $37.5 million into the venture, and other backers include such heavyweights as Coca-Cola, Forbes, NBC, Parade, Wired, Young & Rubicam, and RadioShack.

But since being unveiled, the :CueCat has become one of the most ridiculed products of the Internet era. From wired.com to salon.com, technology writers have slammed the device, describing it as an ill-conceived white elephant that speaks more to the commercial aspirations of marketing types than the practical concerns of media consumers. Because each :CueCat has a unique identifying number, it raised the hackles of privacy advocates. And the Providence Journal received unwanted national exposure last fall when it delayed publication of a column in which Walter S. Mossberg, a Warwick native and respected technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, concluded, "For now, the :CueCat isn't worth installing and using, even though it's available free of charge" (see "Disappearing ink," News, November 23, 2000).

Flash forward, seven years and some people can't leave well enough alone. Sheila Lennon reports today on how Google, incipient master of the universe, has reinvented the :CueCat barcode concept:

Silicon Alley Insider reports, with a straight face,

google-barcode.gifGoogle's efforts to get into the newspaper ad business have yet to yield much. One tool it hopes will eventually change that: Small, square barcodes, like the one at the right, at the bottom of print ads. When a person scans the barcode with a compatible camera phone, it takes their phone's browser to a mobile Web address encrypted in the graphic.

What's the point? This has three benefits: First, it saves the reader the trouble of typing in a Web address into their phone -- an annoying process for the majority of wireless subscribers that don't have phones with QWERTY keypads. Second, it can take the reader to a very specific page, based on an individual ad -- like a coupon or a map to the advertiser's store. And third, it ties into Google's analytics tools, so advertisers can get a very specific sense of which ads work and which don't, when people are viewing them, where they're standing (GPS), etc.

People, if you're looking at a newspaper, do you want to go online to print out a coupon? Why isn't the coupon in the newspaper you already have in your hands?

The technology aims to take readers to a specific page, overcoming the hurdle of long URLs. It's a marketing grail. They just haven't figured out a reason for readers to want to use it yet.

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