4777333366448844433777712226666 - a crazy long number, but what does it mean? It represents how you input 'greenhughes.com' into a browser on a mobile phone in terms of key-presses, that is without the pauses required to input the address correctly. Entering an address into a mobile web browser can be a time consuming and pretty miserable task, this example just takes you to the front page, if you wanted to get the RSS feed, which can work really well on a mobile phone, you will be confronted with an even longer task. Every day we walk past resources that feature web addresses with our mobile phones, like adverts, books, magazines and don't bother to use our mobile devices with them. Why? Well it just takes too long. This leads to a bit of a lost opportunity, fortunately there is a way to get web addresses, text and phone numbers onto your mobile by using a technology known as mobile codes, a two dimensional barcode (rather than the one dimensional bar codes scanned by the tills at shops) that contains a small amount of information within it that can be transferred by using the camera on the mobile to pick up the mobile code and turn it back to text. The whole process is quite painless for the user and takes advantage of the cameras on phones that have improved greatly over the last couple of years.
Now you are able to generate these mobile codes and perhaps put them on your website so that people can easily get the address of your RSS feed onto their mobile to make it easy for them to keep up with your site on the move. You might want to print out the code and attach it to a physical surface, imagine a contemporary art exhibition where the description of each painting has a small mobile code attached to it. If a visitor liked a particular painting they could use a mobile code to get the address of the artist's web site on their mobile phone, potentially creating a customer relationship. You could print the mobile codes in books so that readers could use their mobiles to delve deeper into a particular topic. Maybe you could use the codes to help people find out about their physical environment, linking codes to information online using Semapedia. One company, semacode.com, is even using mobile codes as a way to help people contact each other on Facebook.
A nice aspect of mobile codes is that it is relatively easy to experiment with them as a technology. Many mobile phone sare capable of running the software required to use them, some even have the software built in (such as the Nokia N95). A good resource to get started with is Nokia's mobile codes site which gives a lot of background and also a handy page where you can create the codes for yourself. They also provide a list of software for your mobile phone.
I've been using the mobile codes reader from i-nigma, which you can obtain on your mobile by launching the web browser on your phone and entering http://www.i-nigma.mobi, their site will then work out the make of your phone, and if it is supported invite you to download their software. (UPDATE: I've had to uninstall this software after finding that it seemed to be consuming a lot of bandwidth and power too. Worryingly, this continued even after the app was shut down, I'm keeping an eye on the phone usage to confirm if this was the culprit).
Once you are up and running with a reader it is time to see if you can grab resources with it. Have a go with the mobile code above, launch the software and point the camera at it, if you move the camera slowly the software should beep and display a message! Your mileage with the technology will vary depending on the surface that the mobile code is displayed on and the resolution of your camera. Surfaces like LCD screens or printed material should work well, but traditional CRT monitors or T-shirts might not work so well.
You can embed website URLs in the mobile codes and when the software decodes the mobile code it will launch the web browser in the phone with that address. Interestingly, many mobile browsers can now handle RSS feeds, and the URLs for these can easily be embedded into a mobile code. RSS feeds on mobile phones have the advantage that the inbuilt RSS reader will make use of all the available screen space, without website publishers necessarily having to make a mobile optimised version of their website. For example, I've included mobile codes for this website and PlanetOU on their respective pages. You can subscribe to these feeds on your mobile phone by using the reader software and pointing your camera at the code, once the software picks this up it will pass the RSS feed URL to the mobile phone web browser which should offer you the chance to subscribe. You only need to do this once as the mobile phone will remember the feed address, the next time you want to read it you can just go the entry in your web browser's bookmarks.
Creating the mobile codes can be done with a variety of software, Nokia has a create mobile codes page which can be used for personal, non-commercial purposes. If you are running Drupal you might be interested in the Mobile codes module that allows you to add a filter that can be used to generate mobile codes, which I believe are pulled from the Nokia site. The snappily-named iec16022 project provides an open source tool to generate the codes (this is available in the Ubuntu repositories). If you can recommend any other open source or web based tools to create the codes then it would be great if you could add them to the comments for this post.
The future for this technology must be bright. Being able to grab links and resources while on the move in a way that is no more difficult than taking a picture could work out to be a very important driver in driving up the use of the mobile web. It brings information to your fingertips quickly and in a way that integrates with a device many people already carry. What would be great to see now is the mobile code reader software installed on many more mobile phones before being supplied to end users so that people can get up and running without having to go through the steps of finding a reader that works and downloading it. Finally, the 10-point manifesto published over a year ago on the S60 blogs site has many of the principles that will create an environment for this technology to flourish. As ever the answer does not lie in creating a restrictive environment where developers have to jump through licensing hoops to work with a piece of technology, but an open environment where people are free to innovate.
Why not include a mobile code on your website, or maybe print one on your business card? This would make it easy for people to read your website while on the move, or to get in contact with you.