SquareTag isn't a QR code play. It's a personal cloud play. We just happen to use QR codes. QR Codes provide a way for humans to easily discover the cloud associated with a thing, and interact with it, from a mobile device.

SquareTag on keys

Some people hate QR codes. Certainly Kevin isn't alone in this. Doc relates a conversation with JP with essentially the same emotion. I have to admit that I'm ambivalent about them: I see them as a useful tool that will be replaced by better tools in the future. That might surprise you if you know anything about SquareTag, a personal cloud product from my company, Kynetx.

I won't go into the details of what SquareTag does. You can read my recent blog post Using Products to Build Customer Relationships to understand that better. One thing to note as you read it, however, is that QR codes play only a bit part in the narrative.

I describe the QR codes in SquareTag as a time machine. QR codes allow me to jump past the problem of "how do I discover the cloud associated with this thing" and get right to thinking about "what if every thing had a cloud?" What role do QR codes play in SquareTag? Discovery. QR codes provide SquareTag with a convenient way for people to discover and claim the clouds associated with a thing. Let me unpack that a bit.

The underlying idea of SquareTag is to give everything (and I mean every thing, place, concept, organization, etc.) an online presence—a little virtual machine that can store data about the thing and run programs on it's behalf. There are lots of reasons to do this from cool new features and functionality to better relationships between manufacturers and their customers. I've even written about why giving clouds to potholes makes sense.

The problem is: how do I discover a thing's cloud so that I can interact with it? The thing's cloud has a unique identity, but that's a long string of characters that humans won't reliably or happily enter into their mobile phones. So, we give each cloud a short code. For example, the short code for my Bose noise canceling headphones is U7VHQP. You can either type that code in at SquareTag or enter a URL directly:

But even that is a little unwieldy to type in, so we encode it in a QR code on the SquareTag for people who want to scan it. Every short code on every tag, and hence every QR code on every tag is unique. Each tag is printed to let people know they have the option of scanning or entering the code. For example, here's the current luggage tag we have:

Sample SquareTag luggage tag

We could certainly change the message, use NFC, or whatever. The goal is to make it easy for humans to be able to discover the cloud associated with the thing and use it from their mobile devices. I'm not an expert in design so, I'd be happy to take whatever suggestions people have.

QR codes present a dilemma for SquareTag. They are, as near as I can tell, the easiest way to do cloud discovery right now, but they arouse significant emotion in many people. I constantly remind people that SquareTag isn't really about the tags. It's about the clouds. SquareTag isn't a QR code play. It's a personal cloud play. We just happen to use QR codes.