(Update: Unfortunately, many of the historic links on this post are dead. Thanks to Archive.org, here is a link to a snapshot of the now defunct PaperClick.com.)
Remember the CueCat? One of the most embarassing technologies of the web era? It was based on the premise that people who see something in print and need to reference related content on the Internet would rather scan in a barcode than type in a URL. After burning through a reported two hundred and fifty million dollars, the backers of the invention proved that even if you give away millions of really stupid looking barcode readers in the shape of a plastic cat, people would rather type in a URL. To me, the Cuecat is the perfect symbol for technology designed to help converge print and digital media in a really cool way that only a miniscule sliver of people will ever care to adopt. Less elegant in practice than in concept, the seemingly helpful device is but a Rube Goldberg-like substitution for what in reality is a quite simple function: say, typing a URL into a browser. Well, as if to prove that lots of people actually slept through some of the more bizarre and strange ideas of the late 90s, another company has come out with a weirdly similar product, the Paperclick for Cellphone. For use with a phone that has a camera, a user “only needs to take a picture of a UPC code, EAN code or PaperClick code, and the PaperClick For Cell Phones software automatically decodes the barcode and takes the user directly to the associated web site using the phone’s built-in web browser.”
To demonstrate the technology, the company behind PaperClick, Neomedia Technologies (OTC:NEOM, today’s closing price: 13.5¢), has set up an affiliate store at Amazon.com (although this link goes to the rexblog affiliate store) that works something like this, according to the company: You’re in a Barnes & Noble and see a book you like. Instead of purchasing the book right there, you take a picture of the book’s ISBN with your camera phone and (they’re not too clear in the press release on how this part works) you download or e-mail the picture of the ISBN to their Amazon affiliate store and comparison shop for the book. “It’s kind of a high-tech version of the Santa Claus at Macy’s® sending Christmas shoppers to Gimbels in the classic movie, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’,” the company’s ceo “mused” (they actually used the word “mused”) in the press release announcing the concept. (Not to get too technical, but isn’t this metaphor a bit mis-guided? If I recall the movie, Macy’s did not HAVE the product so Santa sent the customer to Gimbels. In the bookstore scenario, the product is not only in stock, it MUST be in stock for the technology to work. It would be like Gimbels not having a product on its showroom floor but there’s one the warehouse, so they send the customer to Macy’s to try out the product with the understanding that if the customer likes it, they will come back across the street and purchase it from Gimbels which will ship them the product later from the warehouse.) One of the markets the PaperClick folks are going after is magazine advertisers that will want to include a barcode on their ads that someone can take a picture of that will lead them to the advertiser’s website (again, which apparently, PaperClick believes is a user experience more natural than typing in a URL). The good news is that the PaperClick for Cellphones people will learn this idea makes no sense without burning through anywhere near the same amount of money the Cuecat folks torched.