HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The newsonomics of MLB’s pioneering mobile experience
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Oct. 7, 2009, 5 p.m.

At National Post, two-dimensional barcodes link print readers to web

As visitors to Google know, today is the barcode‘s 57th birthday. (Those cutting-edge parallel lines received their first patent on October 7, 1952.) That seemed like a good occasion to check on a related technology that a few newspapers have toyed with this year: two-dimensional barcodes, also known as matrix codes.

When The National Post, the Canadian national daily, introduced 2D barcodes to its pages on April 1, skeptical readers might have thought the pixelated squares were an April Fool’s joke. They weren’t. The Post runs five to 10 matrix codes in each issue, alongside articles, letters to the editor, and other features. Readers who have downloaded ScanLife on their phones can photograph a code and, if all goes according to plan, will be directed to related photos and videos. (I had some issues in testing the process.)

Chris Boutet, the Post’s senior editor of product and engagement for digital media and long titles, wouldn’t disclose how many people are using the codes but told me, “We have seen modest but encouraging scan numbers since we launched. People are using it.” He said that usage had grown each month since launch but acknowledged, “Obviously it’s an emerging technology, and you’re not going to see huge uptake right off the bat, especially when we’re out in front with it.”

Two-dimensional barcodes are far more popular overseas, particularly in Japan, but they haven’t taken off here. Boutet said the Post was the first newspaper in North America to make regular use of 2D codes. The Canadian editions of Metro adopted them last month. Other interest hasn’t yet materialized: The New York Times, which put one of the codes on its front page in 2007 to illustrate an article about the technology, has talked about using them in the daily paper, but those plans are on hold. Google added 2D codes to its now-defunct print advertising service last year.

I wonder if people who are still reading the print edition are likely to adopt new technology on their cell phones. On the other hand, regular readers of newspaper websites heavily overlap with print readership, so this kind of crossover tool could be appealing, with time. [As someone who worked at The Dallas Morning News during the disastrous CueCat debacle of the early 2000s, I remain far too scarred to believe anyone would ever want something like this. —Ed.]

Boutet told me the most popular codes among Post readers have been those attached to developing stories, promising new information, like the ongoing saga of Jim Balsillie’s attempt to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes. (If it sounds like I’d heard of that story before this afternoon, I hadn’t.) The codes, Boutet said, are preferable to the way most newspapers link print readers to their websites: by printing URLs for section pages, rather than pointing people to the specifically related content. “All the stuff that we have to print URLs for,” he said, “it’s a disastrous application.”

POSTED     Oct. 7, 2009, 5 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The newsonomics of MLB’s pioneering mobile experience
Running a sports league and running a news operation aren’t the same thing. But there are lessons to be learned from baseball’s success in navigating mobile.
Why The New York Times built a tool for crowdsourced time travel
Madison, a new tool that asks readers to help identify ads in the Times archives, is part of a new open source platform for crowdsourcing built by the company’s R&D Lab.
Opening up the archives: JSTOR wants to tie a library to the news
Its new site JSTOR Daily highlights interesting research and offers background and context on current events.
What to read next
1020
tweets
The newsonomics of the millennial moment
The new wave of news startups is aiming at a younger audience. But do legacy media companies have a chance at earning their attention?
803A mixed bag on apps: What The New York Times learned with NYT Opinion and NYT Now
The two apps were part of the paper’s plan to increase digital subscribers through smaller, targeted offerings. Now, with staff cutbacks on the way, one app is being shuttered and the other is being adjusted.
413The new Vox daily email, explained
The company’s newsletter, Vox Sentences, enters an increasingly crowded inbox. Can concise writing and smart aggregation on the day’s news help expand their audience?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
PBS
Wikipedia
Chicago News Cooperative
Kaiser Health News
Associated Press
Ann Arbor News
La Nación
Grist
Chi-Town Daily News
Newsday
Bloomberg
The Bay Citizen