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April 21, 2008

Hidden in plain sight

ESPOO, Finland – This week Nokia launched another NFC phone. NFC stands for ‘Near Field Communication’, a short-range radio-based data exchange technology. While NFC refers to a particular standard, you probably use something similar with tags such as bus cards, ski passes, or corporate access keys that you use by touching to a surface.

What excites me about NFC is the range of uses. A while back, I used to think that NFC was only about sensing of tags, either for vending, or for folks with readers to interact with static tags. While this might be fine for keeping inventory, or for adding flair to a billboard, it was a bit too passive for me. To me, 2D-barcodes could do all that.

Then, someone I know from the NFC team pulled me aside and showed me a rarely promoted feature of our NFC phones.

The phones can not only read the tags, but they can write to them too. And, to me, that changes the equation.

The tags can hold a decent amount of data, at least, enough to do something interesting with. For example, the ability to leave a short message on the tag. This message could be just to let the tag owner know I had been there, or could even be used to leave messages for others to read.

Now take it a bit further: Imagine if kids had peppered the town with tags. They could then leave each other messages in different areas (‘Kilroy woz ‘ere’), messages that only those that were ‘in’, owning the right tag readers, could see. This would be like hiding secrets in plain sight, hiding secrets right under the noses of their parents.

I sometimes think that NFC will really take off when we have teenagers and young adults play with it, hack it, and use it in ways that we never expected.

That was the history of SMS – from a business tool to a multi-billion message a day play-thing.

Might that also be the future history of NFC?

Image from Señor Codo