2D codes market gets crowded with proprietary marks

2D codes are becoming more mainstream here in the US, and there are more and more instances of them popping in your daily life. The problem is, most people still have no idea what they are or how to read them, and having half a dozen or more different types isn’t helping.

The newest code to hit the scene is JAGTAG, which I ran across for the first time in the latest Swimsuit Edition of SI. Calling this one a 2D code is sort of a misnomer as I see it though. In order to get the content, you have to shoot a picture of the tag, then SMS it to a number, which unfortunately (for them) costs me money. This is a decent idea for when you don’t have signal to just automatically grab the featured content from the code, but it adds another step, and as well know, people are lazy. Website Magazine uses yet another iteration from ScanLife which is just close enough to fool the average user to thinking that their existing QR Code reader would read it – but it doesn’t. So even though I have a subscription to this magazine at work, I have never followed one of these codes, since my readers won’t san them. There are others too, like ShotCode and Semacode, both of which are different still from a standard QR Code and proprietary.

The problem with these proprietary codes is that they are closed systems, and out of the 3 readers I have on my iPhone, none of them read any of these other codes. In fact, without licensing from all of these folks, I would have no way of making an app that would read them all, and even then there’s really no way I could make it available for free. And if it’s not free, at least for a 2D code reader, it won’t ever be ubiquitous. The marketing shlock behind all of these other codes is that theirs is better, unique and has some feature that makes it a good choice. They all tout their reach into the mobile market, and how they can be read by millions. Sure it’s possible, but not as likely as if they were simply using QR Codes. QR Codes have been around for nearly 20 years now, have a much broader reach than all of these other codes combined, and are completely open and free to generate. Free is the key component here.

There are plenty of cool examples of QR Codes out in the wild, and I have quite a few listed in these posts on my blog. Google, just a couple of months ago, created a new opportunity for popular business in the search results to display QR Code window stickers with their Favorite Places program. If I planning a campaign for my magazine, print advertising, or other promotion where a 2D code would be a viable component, there’s no way I would pay for a proprietary code on top of the advertising and development of the program. With marketing budgets being downsized on all fronts, why would anyone use a closed system that they can’t maintain themselves? Why should I pay someone else to create something I could create myself in less than 2 minutes, especially since no technical expertise is required to generate a QR Code. A great example is the generator at QRStuff.com – online, simple and versatile.

I can’t really fault these companies for trying to create a new way of building a code, and trying to make money from it, but I would have used QR Codes as the basis of it. They’re simply more ubiquitous and at the end of the day, you want the greatest number of people to be able to access the content behind the code, and having a closed system isn’t going to get you there.