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Tagging The World

August 17th, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the connection between my digital world and the physical world.  I spend a lot of time in both (with my job being the forcing function for the former) and have often wondered how much cross over there really is in terms of the activities that are being done.  What has risen to the surface for me lately is the notion of ‘tagging’.  Think of it in terms of Facebook.  I take thousands of photos every year – of places, people, events, objects, animals, and simple moments in time that I want to capture.  When I post those photos – either to my Facebook account or my Flickr account, I am usually pretty diligent about ‘tagging’ the important objects (human or non human) that are present in each photo.  That creates a digital, track-able, trail that can be shared with those that I feel would like to participate in the experience.  Our social networking personas are full of ‘tagged’ content. From a simple statement on Twitter to a photo on Facebook to a mention in a blog post.

The thing that I am finding fascinating lately is the rise in the tendency to tag our physical world.  Take the application Stickybits for example.  The proclamation on their website is as follows:

A fun and social way to attach digital content to real world objects

How does it work?  You simply use your smart phone with the Stickybits app on it to scan a bar code on any physical object that might have one (soda can, magazine, packaging of your favorite DVD – you get the point – they’re everywhere and anywhere) and then attach whatever ‘tag’ you would like to that bar code.  The tag could contain a link to a document, sound file, photo, video, or just be simply a comment on the product containing the bar code itself.  Why do this you ask?  To enhance and expand upon the tangible offering of any physical object in your everyday world.  For example, rather than simply handing over your business card with your standard information on it – why not affix a scan-able bar code to it that provides your business acquaintance the ability to download your resume or any other file you want to share – simply by scanning your business card?  A brilliant way to make an impression beyond a 1″x3″ piece of card stock.

This new wave of real world ‘tagging’ is essentially a digital form of graffiti on physical objects. Let’s see how it might work.  Today I scanned the bar code on the back of my badge for work. Having done that and uploaded it to my Stickybits account, any friend that I have associated with that account will be able to see what I’ve scanned and add their own tag or comment to that object.  So this picture could easily be modified with a comment, additional photo, or incriminating video….if I’ve made it public to my friends.  I’ll be careful with whom I allow to see my scans.  🙂

Stickybits is not the only game in town. Tales of Things is doing something similar and there is a cadre of others hunting down the same path.  Is this new?  Actually, no – Wired published a story 6 years ago on the possibilities of linking your world to the Web – but the activity did not gain full momentum until the adoption of Smart Phones over the last 18 months.   Per Wired

Technologists have long dreamed of a clickable world, where machine-readable tags link physical objects to the universe of information on the Web“.

It’s taken a long time for this activity to gain significant momentum with the natural correlation between Mobile and Social Media, I expect this to ramp exponentially moving forward.

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