Can The Olympics Be a Gold Medal Moment For QR Codes?
Sports events tend to be milestones in media history. The fervor around World Series and World Cups, for instance, helps fuel consumer exposure to new platforms like streaming media and mobile. This is not new to digital media. The 1947 World Series was seen by many TV historians as an important turning point in Americans' embrace of a TV technology that actually had been available for years.
Consumers need reasons to get acquainted with new technologies by events that drive them to try new modes of access. And the experience helps persuade the user of possible use cases that he or she may never have imagined.
While mobile activation codes are hardly news, their use has been catch-as-catch-can and with hit-or-miss results. They pop up randomly in the pages of newspapers and magazines or bus kiosks -- or most infamously, on subway cars or highway billboards where no one possibly can use them.
What we haven’t seen on a large scale is mobile codes used as a comprehensive communications system in a physical venue, where multiple touchpoints and codes in a physical space create a dynamic network that essentially connects the venue with multiple audiences. Something like that may get tested at the Summer Olympics in London. ScanBuy's ScanLife, the popular solutions provider for servicing mobile activation codes, is the official supplier of code services to the Olympics organizing committee for the games.
As CEO Mike Wehrs tells me, the committee has not committed to a final deployment strategy, but the promise here is enormous for exploring new ways of using codes in physical space. “What we explained to them is that here is a broad-based communication capability that a vast majority of people attending can interact with and use as a way of communicating to them and getting information out to a lot of people.”
Codes likely will show up throughout the various sites, and the possibility is here to broadcast the daily agendas, post the latest scores, and even link to video highlights. The codes can also direct users in a specific spot to nearby restaurants, exits and resources. Since the codes can be location-specific and link to pages with multi-choice menus, the immediate space can offer visitors a kind of personal interactive kiosk of choices.
On the most obvious level, an organized execution of mobile codes in such a high-profile event is an important moment, Wehrs says. “From an industry perspective we see this as a massive validation in the largest sporting venue where people congregate. That in itself is transformative for us.”
But more to the point, the approach of using a network of codes strewn throughout a physical venue is a proof of concept that can be extended elsewhere. Obviously there are ways of putting codes to use in a range of settings. At a sports arena or ball park, the code can trigger everything from instant replays to from-your-seat food ordering. In music arenas it can be a way for bands to communicate more directly with the audience.
Of course, mobile codes are really just a trigger, and there are multiple other ways to activate the mobile dimension: short codes, location-aware apps, etc. But it will be interesting to see if the Olympics committee is smart enough to see the potential here for crafting a network of communications. If the visitors understand that the nearby QR code is location and contextually aware, then the code becomes a way for the visitor lost in a crowd to make contact with the organizers or venue and get contextually relevant information of any kind.
The Olympics instance is an interesting case to me, because mobile codes have the feel of a clickable moment. I have always been fascinated by the prospect of the mobile phone being a mouse that can be used to click on the physical world and render data in much the same way we retrieve information from the Web.
While a location-aware app in venue might be another obvious way to communicate with a visitor to a venue, the mobile code is a visual hot spot that reminds users in the physical world that there is an opportunity for interaction. Geo-fencing or other passive triggers are fine, although they need to be turned on and opted into by the user.
I suspect we will always need some kind of physical world signal to notify us that a space is live with additional data if we activate it via our cell phones. Making the physical world interactive ultimately is the goal here. Finding more coherent and rewarding ways to knit together real and virtual experience is, in my mind, the long-range promise of mobile devices.