Edmonton Journal launches 2D barcodes with ScanLife

Yesterday the Edmonton Journal launched 2D barcodes throughout the newspaper, enabling readers with mobile devices to scan the codes for access to related information. They chose ScanLife to provide the technology, the same company that Metro Canada chose back in September. Here’s what The Journal had to say about the barcodes, known as EZcodes:

Want to vent? Send a letter to the editor? Tweet at one of our writers? Find a map to that great new restaurant? Just scan the code and that information stays with you and your phone to take wherever you want. The standing codes attached to our regular columnists and bloggers stay under the history button in the ScanLife application on your phone, so you can read their latest columns and blogs even when you don’t have the paper with you.

Mobile barcodes are another technology that Canada (and North America really) is behind on relative to the rest of the world. In that respect, I guess you could say that Metro and The Journal are adopters of the technology. ScanLife isn’t the only player, another popular choice (at least in North America) is Microsoft Tag, which uses high capacity color barcodes rather than the black-and-white EZcodes.

To get started with the codes that The Journal is using, simply visit http://2dscan.com on your smartphone to download the free scanning software. Then whenever you see the 2D barcode, just scan it! There are more detailed instructions here.

Edmonton Journal ScanLife Launch

The Journal hosted a party last night at Earls Tin Palace to celebrate the launch. The patio was packed with people wearing nametags with EZcodes on them. Bistro columnist Liane Faulder was the host, appropriate as her section was the first to launch with the new codes. Here’s a video of Liane, Edmonton Journal publisher John J. McDonald III, and Caritas Hospital Foundation President John Boucher (the first advertising partner for the codes) talking about the launch of 2D codes in the paper:

It was a fun party! I learned that Sandra Marocco planted the seed for the idea after a trip to New York. She noticed the tags being used outside Saks on Fifth Avenue, and decided to explore them further. After she found that Esquire magazine was using them, she realized they might provide value to the Edmonton Journal. The rest, as they say, is history.

Edmonton Journal ScanLife LaunchEdmonton Journal ScanLife Launch

You can see a few more photos from the party here. You can also see some photos and a video at The Journal.

Thoughts on 2D barcodes in the Edmonton Journal

I have mixed emotions about the 2D barcodes now found inside the Edmonton Journal. I think it’s great that they are continuing to experiment, trying new things, and I hope we see additional innovations coming from The Journal in the near future. Having said that, I wonder if too much emphasis is being placed on the barcodes by management. More than a few times last night I heard “this is just the beginning” or as was printed yesterday, “the possibilities for connection are endless.” I have three main issues with the barcodes:

  1. Putting the barcodes inside the newspaper reinforces the importance of the physical product. It emphasizes the “paper” part of “newspaper” rather than the “news” part. It’s short-term thinking, not long-term thinking. I think The Journal is very much facing the innovator’s dilemma, and even though the smart people that work under management know what needs to be done, they hit roadblocks at every turn. Here’s a rough analogy for you: The Journal is like a long-time smoker, addicted to paper. Connecting the physical paper to the digital world with barcodes is like a smoker using a nicotine patch, even though we know cold turkey is the most effective way to quit.
  2. Speaking of reinforcing the paper, the barcodes give you more information than the actual website does. That’s just completely unacceptable. Take yesterday’s Bistro article on sliders. The EZcodes provide access to “a list of Edmonton restaurants with sliders on the menu…a tasty recipe from local foodie Shauna Faragini… and where to get slider buns and pre-made sliders”. The online story? Completely devoid of links. There are so many things wrong with this picture that I don’t know where to start. Writers need to do some extra work to create the codes, but I would much rather see that extra work be put into links on the website (and I’m positive that doing so would provide greater value to The Journal).
  3. Less of an issue but still important is that the EZcodes are somewhat generic. Columnists get a code, and some special features like the Bistro get a code, but individual stories do not get their own codes. This is partly a technology issue, but mainly a cost issue. I think that makes the EZcodes a little less useful (an option to “tweet this story” after scanning a code simply isn’t possible, for example).

Again though, I want to reiterate that this is a positive step for the Edmonton Journal from the perspective of trying something new, and working to provide more value to readers (and advertisers). Congrats to the entire Edmonton Journal team for making it happen!

I also want to commend The Journal on the way they did the launch. They had videos prepared online demonstrating the technology, and every article I read asked for reader feedback and suggested a variety of ways to provide it. I really do believe that they want to know how to shape their use of the technology based on reader feedback. The party was a nice touch as well. Most interesting to me though, was the use of the @EJ_Cares account on Twitter. It has been actively monitoring and engaging in discussion about the 2D barcodes and the ScanLife application. The online community are most likely going to be the early adopters of the barcodes, so it’s smart to engage with them right away – well done to the @EJ_Cares team!

I hope Journal readers find the barcodes useful, and I look forward to many more interesting ideas in the future!

UPDATE: Here is Jeff’s take on the party and the barcodes.

UPDATE2: Turns out the information is on the website, just on a different story page (this is another issue with The Journal’s online stuff). I think the link text could have been more clear than “Slider tips and toppings” but the point is the information was online – my mistake!