Whatever Happened to the Coolest Tag?


A couple of years ago, Microsoft (not usually known as a company doing trendy things) came out with Tag barcodes, something that got me really excited.

You see, I’ve been a barcode guy for as long as I can remember and something that broke all the rules and got away from boring black and white lines or squares was a treat to see.

Better yet, Microsoft provided a complete infrastructure around the Tag barcode. A website to design the symbols, a mobile app so that consumers can read them and basic statistics to see how many times the codes are scanned.

For me, the best part is that the Tag barcodes themselves can be customized and made to look really cool.

I was so excited about this that I had vCards for all the people on our team encoded into Microsoft Tag and had a special design made with the Tags embedded in our logo. Over the last year or so, we’ve had everyone’s business cards printed with the MS Tag vCard on the back – the idea being that our clients and business partners can just scan the code to get our contact into their mobile phone and to their database. Getting the image of the Tag and the rest of the graphics all aligned is a little clunky (I’d avoided Illustrator all these years and didn’t want to install it now, but that’s the best tool to do it), but we have a process that works OK.

This scanning part is where things went wrong for us, and I suspect for Microsoft in general.

I’ve given my cards to hundreds of people – at trade shows, at seminars, on sales calls, at training sessions, etc., and guess what? Out of all those hundreds of people, just one even knew what Microsoft Tag was and actually had the app on his phone to be able to read it. This one gentleman happened to be a Microsoft employee!

Even though we added some text to our cards to point out that they can be scanned, it is clear that I was too clever for my own good. This also applies to Microsoft as well and at some point they allowed Tag barcodes to be made as QR codes as well as the original format.

While using QR Codes takes all the fun part of Microsoft Tag away, at least people who see them recognize that it is a barcode to be scanned and since there are many QR Code reader apps available, a lot might actually go ahead and scan them.

So is Microsoft Tag dead? Certainly not, since because of the QR code option. It also can handle Near Field Communication (NFC) tags mean that it is getting established in something that might end up making the big-time. I also noticed that on the new Microsoft smartphones, the Bing search app allows scanning of Microsoft using the built-in Vision Search which is rather cool although not very well documented.

In the meantime, the next business cards we just ordered will have a QR Code as well as the MS Tag. Not as pretty, but probably a better chance of someone actually using it.

Written by

David Holliday lives in the label and barcode world at Winco Identification in New Hampshire. You can contact David by scanning the Microsoft Tag (yeh, right!) or the old fashioned by calling 603-598-1553.



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