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July 13, 2009

Microsoft Tag

Originally posted January 19, 2009 at MSDN.

At the suggestion of a coworker, I finally took the time this morning to really check out the Microsoft Tag mobile application. Prior to today, I knew it had something to do with barcodes and colored triangles, but really couldn’t have told you much else. What I can tell you now is that it’s an innovative and slick app that has the promise to change how we interact with information. Quoting from the website, “Microsoft Tag instantly connects you to more information and entertainment – without typing long URLs or texting shortcodes.” What does that mean you ask? Well, it means that with Microsoft Tag and a cellular phone pretty much any piece of media from a billboard to a video can become an interactive object. As someone interested in mobile technology who works in content publishing, I find that quite interesting. Let’s start by just looking at the product website.

Shown below is the Microsoft Tag website. The first thing I noticed is that it has some nice Silverlight transitions through sample Tag scenarios, such as a Tag in a movie poster that can be used to launch a movie trailer on your phone. I say phone, because this application works on an array of smartphones and feature phones. The next thing I noticed was the little Try It section in the corner of the site. If you click there you’ll be informed you can either navigate on your phone to for the application or enter your phone number to receive a text message with a link.



Once you have the mobile application, you can launch it from your programs list. Just to define some context, everything I’m showing is from my Blackjack II and images were captured using the MyMobiler application.



After the application loads, you’re presented with some icons and a red square overlaid on the image coming from your camera. What you see below is an image of the application when my phone’s camera is pointed at the Microsoft Tag website on my computer monitor. As I center the red box over the picture of a device with a tag in the lower left hand corner of the website, the tag is automatically read and performs an action.



Microsoft Tags can be used for a number of purposes from linking to online content to easily giving someone your contact information for storage on your phone. In the case of the Tag on the Microsoft Tag website, it points to the Microsoft Tag mobile website. As soon as the application reads the tag, your mobile browser is launched and you’re directed to the mobile website without ever having to type in a link. If you’re security conscious, you can also tweak the application’s settings to ask you for permission before launching the browser.



At this point, combined with reading other interesting blogs posts like the one by Michael Gannotti, I was pretty much sold and interested enough to wonder how I could generate some tags of my own. It turns out making tags is simple and, at the moment anyway, free. All you have to do is click the “Make a Tag” button on the Microsoft Tag webpage and you can use your Live ID to log in to a Tag management page.



After creating your custom tag, you can share it out to anyone. Below is one that I created to point to the Windows Mobile Team Blog.



A final feature I haven’t seen mentioned much is that once you’ve created your tag, you can access analytics online concerning it’s use. Below is an image of the usage graph for the Tag I created earlier. Since I’m the only one that has used it so far, it only shows two hits, but I hope you can see how it could be useful.



We’ll see how well this idea catches on, but I certainly found it to be a really cool mobile application. I’ve only covered the basics of this app, so please take the time to check it out for yourself. For more information about Microsoft Tag, you can also visit their team blog at