Photo: Dan Frommer, Business Insider
While “2D” or “QR” mobile barcodes are big in Japan, we’ve always been sceptical that they will take off in the U.S.The idea is to make it easy to do web things on your mobile phone, like go to a web URL, download an app or ringtone, etc.
But they seem like an awfully cumbersome way to do anything. You have to download extra software; take a good picture of the barcode — difficult in low light; and hope it works.
It just doesn’t seem like something most people are going to do very often. There has to be a better way, and many companies are working on alternatives.
So here’s an interesting new option that we may start to hear more about: A new way of getting web stuff on your phone by dialling a vanity phone number that starts with two stars. It’s sort of like the mobile version of the AOL Keyword from the Web 1.0 days.
For example, if you call **SUZUKI from your phone, the computer on the other end of the line instantly sends you a text message with a URL in it. Hang up and pop open the text message, and you’ll see a URL to tap. This URL takes you to a mobile website promoting a new Suzuki motorcycle, where you can watch a promotional video or follow the company on Facebook.
It’s not totally free to use: It uses up a minute of your voice calling plan, and one text message from your texting plan. But there’s no taking pictures, no installing barcode reader apps, and no waiting. It is easy and quick, and very low-tech on the user’s behalf.
A company called Zoove is running this registry of **BRAND numbers, and today it’s announcing that it is functional on all four major operators in the U.S. New deals with Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile, in addition to old deals with Verizon Wireless and AT&T, mean that its shortcodes will work for the vast majority of U.S. wireless subscribers. This means it can aggressively start selling ad agencies and brands on the concept.
Besides Suzuki, so far, Zoove is announcing that 1-800-FLOWERS has registered **FLOWERS, and that **LAW will become a registry for law firms.
So will we start to see more of these numbers, and will they be publicized widely? Or will this become another mediocre success like the .mobi URLs that were supposed to become the standard for mobile sites?
The benefit is that brands who lease these shortcodes will get a bunch of tools available to them, including tracking.
The shortcodes work on any phone — not just smartphones — and you can send different types of phones different items. For example, you can set it up to send a link to an iTunes app store app to iPhone users, a link to the Android Market for Android users, and a WAP site to Motorola RAZR users. (Because Zoove works with the phone company on the back end, it knows your phone number, location, and the type of phone you’re using.)The challenge is that unlike mobile barcodes, which are free to generate, Zoove **BRAND numbers are not free — far from it, in fact. The yearly fee to rent the number ranges from thousands of dollars per year for long strings of numbers to tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for short names or common words.
Is this an expense that brands will invest in and promote? Will we start to see **COKE at the bottom of the screen during Coca-Cola commercials? Will a million-dollar bidding war break out over **PIZZA?
Or will brands continue to promote their web URLs or Facebook pages, or just say “download our iPhone and Android app”? (Or will those goofy 2D barcodes actually become popular?)