Will Microsoft Tag Mainstream 2D Barcodes?

In Japan and elsewhere in Asia 2D barcodes (QR codes) are widely used. They also have momentum in Europe. However, despite a range of efforts, they're largely unknown to mobile users in the US. I suspect that within two or three years, however, they will be mainstream in this country.

The virtue of QR codes is that they can connect "the real world" to dynamic information and the Internet. Magazines, outdoor ads, websites, real-estate signage and other marketing can use barcodes to provide offers, additional information and so on. The can also track performance of those media. It's very similar to how SMS can connect traditional media and marketing with the digital world. However QR codes only require that users capture an image of the code graphic. Yet they also require a software download. 

Consumers with smartphones are getting accustomed to scanning conventional UPC codes in stores for product information. It's just a hop, skip and a jump to QR codes (or some version of them). And Microsoft Tag could become the driver of that mainstream scenario.

Last week Microsoft said it was making the Tag technology available to anyone that wanted to utilize it for free:

Today we’re announcing that Tag is coming out of beta and that basic use of Tags will be free of charge. This means you will be able to generate and use Tags that link to our standard scenarios, such as linking directly to webpages, and use the reader application at no cost. By simply going to Tag.Microsoft.com, you can create Tags and deliver rich interactive experiences on mobile phones, track your Tags, and read about how companies such as Conde Nast and others are using Tag. 

An interesting use case explained in the Microsoft blog post I quote from above describes how Tags are being placed on public monuments in Amsterdam:

Amsterdam became the second world city with a Tag-led tour, with Tags on monuments, museums, restaurants, bars, and other landmarks. The Mall of America, in Minnesota, has announced plans to use Tag to help enhance customer engagement and give retailers an interactive tool to promote their products. 

The challenge to 2D barcode adoption in the US is the lack of standardization; there's no single universal code in use and not enough installed users. It's a bit of the old "chicken and egg problem." Microsoft hopes to popularize Tags and overcome that problem by making them free, as well as the consumer software necessary to read them. 

Facebook is also potentially going to introduce QR codes (although the use cases aren't yet clear). But if any site has the capacity to educate users about a technology it's problem them.