Graphical links, 2D Barcodes and Microsoft Tag

With CES happening last week there’s been plenty of new technology to play with – not least a full beta or Windows 7.  One thing that caught my eye though was Microsoft Tag.

Tag for this site

The idea of encoding data in a graphical form has been around for years, in its most basic form the simple barcode.  Normal barcodes can’t contain much data though, so aren’t that useful in the internet world.  2D barcodes however can contain quite a bit – certainly enough to contain a URL.

Traditional 2D barcodes like QR Codes do just that, provide a way of encoding a URL.  The idea being that you point a camera phone or webcam at the QR code and some client software sends the the URL to a browser to open.


There are a few things that make the solution from MS a little different.  For one thing the codes are a different format, they’re smaller and use coloured triangles rather than mono-chrome blocks.  This technology High Capacity Color Barcodes (HCCBs) allows they tags to be much smaller.

The other big difference is that the codes don’t contain a URL, but instead contain a reference.  The client software decodes the reference than polls a backend service for the details of the code, whether that be a URL, a vCard for contact information, free text or interestingly a phone number that a phone client can dial.


One of the benefits of using a reference and backend service is that you can easily perform some analytics on your tags and their use.  The MS Tag generator site does just that with a range of reports available.

So what could you use tags for?  When there are a few obvious uses such as adverts and posters – snapping a picture of the tag on a movie poster might take you to local cinema times (you can opt to send location data with tags).

So far there are clients for Windows Mobile, J2EE, iPhone, Blackberry and Symbian S60 phones.  The tag generator is web based using Silverlight and as you might have spotted from my screenshot work on a Mac too.  You can get the client here: or from the iStore on iPhone.

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