Monday, October 30, 2006

MSFT Live Barcode

Various coverage out about MSFT's new Live Barcode solution. Some, like Nathan Weinberg, summarizing it as:

Could be a lot of fun. Someone just please find me some decent software, or Windows Live better start shipping soon. I’m excited about the possibilities.

While others, like David Hunter, see it as MSFT "jumps the shark":

Reading through the Web site and taking the tour, it seems mostly to be yet another way for the geeky set to exchange business card information although Microsoft apparently has higher aspirations.

The simplistic/laborious business card example given by MSFT isn't overly compelling and I can see why, based on that, Hunter isn't impressed (or at least not favorably so). However, I think the concept has FAR broader implications. If you abstract from barcode - which, let's face it, is boring as hell - to a hyperlink that can be easily read via software in camera-equipped cell phones and/or modified mice and linked to specific, server-based info, the possibilities become endless. For example, reading about a particular automobile in a magazine and want to know more? Simply scan the provided barcode with your phone or mouse and get linked immediately to additional info, product specs, videos, etc. (also, from the manufacturer's perspective, think how much better that allows him/her to track the efficacy of their advertising spend). Doing business in another city and pass a restaurant, store, whatever, that you want to check out later? Grab their menu, product list, etc., by simply scanning the barcode on their window. See a product in a store and want to find out more about it, maybe even do some comparison shopping? No problem - just scan the barcode and voila! Finally, put the barcodes in known (GPS) locations, and you even have a poor man's spatial system that can link to maps, related local shopping, etc.

These and many other concepts are already being trialed in Asia, where the greater adoption of camera-equipped phones has led to much greater innovation in this area. Indeed, there are several existing ISV's who are seemingly several years ahead of MSFT in both conceptualization and technology. They're not alone. There are even OSS-based solutions, including one in Washington State no less.

Now MSFT is using QR codes for their effort, whereas many others are using their own proprietary implementation. QR codes are from a Japanese company called Denso-Wave, partially owned by Toyota, and are apparently the most popular 2D code in Japan, making their way onto numerous phones and into various related applications. While there may be some reason why QR, as aesthetically displeasing as it is, may eventually prevail as the leader in 2D barcodes, it's unclear to me how MSFT gains a competitive advantage by providing a service that is tied to it? Shouldn't they at least be taking an ownership position in the company or better yet, building a solution that will read multiple codes or even their own (more consumer appealing) one?

All of which makes me wonder what the overall business strategy for Live is? Currently, it seems to be "throw whatever we've got at the wall and see what sticks", versus consciously researching, selecting and then entering a specific segment with a strategy and plan to win. If I'm wrong, and the latter in fact underpins decisions like the one to introduce Live Barcode, then why enter with a seemingly entry-level, poorly-differentiated, offering that at best comes across as a fun toy? Heck, it doesn't even have obvious linkages, like say a connection between Office/Exchange contacts and a Live [server-based] service whereby business card info could be kept current on an automatic publish/subscribe basis (updating info, or - worse - dealing with outdated contact info, being the real productivity sink hole wrt business cards). Wouldn't it have been better to deliver a comprehensive solution that would impress and, either because of breadth and/or technology, couldn't easily be replicated by YHOO, GOOG or anyone else inside a month (assuming they're not there already)? I'm not talking about massive internal groupthink before acting - we've seen enough of that from MSFT. But surely some semblance of an overall strategy for achieving profitable growth, including how individual initiatives like Live Barcode play within it, should be in place internally and hence apparent externally?


  • Uhh... this was done once before. It was a total flop...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:49 AM  

  • So was the computer mouse on its first incarnation - not to mention numerous other technologies. IMO, the seeds for creating a success are more readily apparent today than they were even 5 years ago (e.g. camera phones vs just a standalone mouse, advertising-based business models, etc.). There are also notable examples in Asia that are already enjoying more success than Cuecat did. That said, it's not a slam dunk by any means - even less so if you come out with a half-baked offering.

    By Blogger MSFTextrememakeover, at 4:21 PM  

  • The computer mouse was *not a total flop when it first came out. That's just BS.

    However, I'll grant you that some ideas take time to "ferment" if you will, and this might be one of them.

    If it's a success, though, it will go far beyond Microsoft's control.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:50 PM  

  • "The computer mouse was *not a total flop when it first came out. That's just BS."

    Well, it was presented in 1968 and didn't really catch on until the 80's. So, I think someone in the early 70's might have argued that - just like the poster did about Cuecat. In any event, you got my point: judging a technology by its initial success - or worse, the success of a single vendor's implementation -isn't conclusive.

    By Blogger MSFTextrememakeover, at 2:35 PM  

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