My friend Heri “twittered” me this picture of a Google print ad published in the San Jose Mercury News that uses a trackable barcode (so-called QR codes). These codes come from a Google open source project called ZXing attached to their Android mobile platform. From what I understand, you basically take a picture of the code with your camera phone and it loads up a web page with more information.
(Flickr photo by Chika)
According to Wubbahed.com, “Google is going to trial QR codes with print advertisers. This shows that Google is going to start actively pushing bar codes, but more importantly, it shows that they’re moving more into the print area, even if it is just to link people to online services.” Wubbahed.com also had a slide from MobileCampNYC showing what Google is thinking of doing with those barcodes.
What it means: as most of you know, Google is on a quest to make all advertising trackable (therefore proving ROI to advertisers). Barcodes are one of the way (along with trackable phone numbers and URLs) to directly measure offline advertising success. Multiple companies have tried to build a business around barcodes in the past with not much success (among them Digital Convergence and NeoMedia). Going open source might be the way to create a de facto standard. Big question: I wonder if Google will be able to track the traffic going through open source deployments.
Update: Sean Owen from Google provides some additional information in the comments: “One teensy clarification — the codes are not generated by the zxing project; it’s just a decoder. And so far it is not part of Android, though we hope to release our Android client pretty soon here.”