Microsoft Tag, the Future of Mobile Tagging

Microsoft Tag was introduced at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. One year later, coinciding with the first anniversary of Microsoft Tag, Softpedia is glad to offer you an insight into the future of mobile tagging.

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your role with Microsoft.

My name is Aaron Getz and I’m the Product Unit Manager for Microsoft Tag.

2. First things first, what’s Microsoft Tag? Please talk a little bit about the technology behind the project.

Microsoft Tag allows for almost anything in the real world to be quickly linked to an interactive experience on your mobile phone. A Tag is a small barcode, optimized for reading with a cell phone, that you can print, stick, or display just about anywhere. When you scan it with your camera phone, it automatically opens a webpage, dials a phone number, or takes some other action on the phone. This allows people to easily access things like video clips, Web sites, contact information and special offers for items they see in the real world. For example, if you include a Tag on your business card, a new acquaintance can snap a picture of the Tag from their camera phone and automatically upload your contact information to their mobile phone.

Microsoft Tag is based on a new type of barcode, developed by Microsoft Research, which was designed to be able to be read from any Internet connected camera phone. You just need the free Tag Reader application, which is available from for every major phone platform.

3. What are the advantages of High Capacity Color Barcodes (HCCBs) versus older QR code standards?

Because QR Codes haven’t taken off outside of Japan, we decided that we would take the opportunity to move this technology forward with a next generation solution that offers a number of advantages.

In terms of the barcode itself, Microsoft Tags can be much smaller than QR Codes. They take up less than 25% of the space of a QR code, which makes them much more practical on product packages, business cards, and magazine advertisements. Tags can also be customized, allowing businesses and consumers who use Tags to add their own branding elements to the Tag.

Also, unlike QR Codes, Microsoft has developed an end-to-end solution that integrates the barcode, with a standard set of Tag Reading software, and a backend with built-in reporting and other functionality. This end-to-end approach makes it much easier for both businesses and consumers to take advantage of mobile barcoding and will allow us to continuously evolve the system with additional functionality.

4. Microsoft Tag’s customization options are fascinating; please tell our readers more about the personalization of tags.

As I mentioned above, the ability to update the experience behind a Tag offers a great deal of personalization. Aside from that, we now offer the ability to create a customized Tag. We’ve seen some companies incorporate company logos, artwork, etc. into Tags.

To view instructions and guidelines on how to create a custom Tag, you can go here.

5. What is the best place to start building tags for a company? Please point business users to what you consider to be the key resources that will help them embrace Microsoft Tag.

It is incredibly easy to start creating Tags. Just go online to, sign-in to create an account, tell us what you want the Tag to do, and then download a graphic file containing the Tag. Companies and consumers can learn more at We also have an active online community on Twitter and Facebook, which serves as a great resource for technical and design usage.

6. Can you enumerate some benefits for end users?

Every Tag is an invitation to try, discover, share, save and do more. Get more information on products you’re looking at, make use of coupons and exclusive discounts at the time of purchase, conduct product comparisons right before making a purchase decision, listen to a cover track or watch a music video from a local band before buying tickets to an upcoming concert, make purchases without standing in a checkout line – act when you want, where you want.

7. How about benefits for businesses?

Tag offers businesses an interactive, personalized way to interact with customers and the possibilities are truly endless. For example, a car company can take out a print ad in a national news outlet with a Tag that would direct consumers to their local dealership’s website and offer the option to sign up for a test drive. Dealers could publish ads in local newspapers with Tags to direct consumers to additional information about a car on their lot (a slideshow of images to show what the car looks like, mileage details, relevant warranty information, etc.). Dealers could also do scavenger hunts to encourage consumers to look at multiple models on the showroom floor or include Tags on brochures of new models so customers can view images, financing specials, or even videos of the car in action from their mobile phone.

Tag also brings new life to print. For example, Golf Digest included Tags in a recent issue to accompany select articles, allowing users to not only read golf instructor Jim Flick’s tips on how to achieve the perfect putt, but to watch a video demonstration straight from their mobile phone while reading the article.

Other scenarios include customers like GVB in Amsterdam who are using Tag to give public transportation customers bus schedules and other related information. In Italy, businesses are starting to integrate Tags right into their yellow page ads as a way to help consumers learn more about their products and services. In Turkey, the major TV guide is using Tag to provide more information and trailers of shows.

And it’s not just brands and businesses who are excited about Tag – developers are also jumping on board. The response has been positive, and we’re seeing our developer community create great applications, like the one you can find at Our traction with developers is further evidence of how easy it is for businesses to get started using Tag.

8. In the end it’s all about marketing, attracting new customers, building brand loyalty and so on and so forth. How does Microsoft Tag help in this regard? How can business measure the impact/effectiveness of leveraging tags?

Companies can use Tag to connect with customers in new and unconventional ways, providing customers with more information at their fingertips, quick transition to purchase decisions, and interesting ways to join brand communities. Tag gives companies access to analytics that can inform their marketing strategies, helping marketers make effective and efficient decisions about their marketing spend.

9. What about availability? When will Microsoft Tag grow to cover additional markets beyond those in the Beta program?

Tag is available for use [of] everyone worldwide.

10. Speaking of which, when do you plan to remove the Beta tag? Should businesses expect any changes as Microsoft Tag evolves during/past Beta?

We still think of Tag in beta primarily because we continue to evolve the features and services of Tag; once we’re closer to our larger vision of what Tag can be, and as the ecosystem matures, then we will consider removing the beta label. For now, Tag is ready for prime time, mass usage – and we’re certainly seeing it.

11. Can you offer some sort of statistics related to adoption so far? How many instances of the phone app have been downloaded? How many businesses are leveraging the technology already? How many are personalizing their tags?

We are not able to share specific numbers with regard to how many Tags have been created – it is difficult to track because anyone can go to the site and create their own Tag. We can share that Tag has thus far exceeded our (big) expectations for adoption and usage – a trend we expect to see continue.

12. Microsoft Tag is free in Beta. What about after it is launched? Do you have a pricing model? How much will customers/businesses have to pay?

Our business model will likely be more of a value added services model. For example we could offer the ability to customize experiences based on the gender, age, and interests of the consumer snapping the Tag. We could potentially charge users for the ability to view the analytics behind the Tag such as how many users snapped an image of a specific Tag.

13. On the Microsoft Tag blog (, you feature numerous examples of businesses that are using Microsoft Tag. Can you select a handful of adopters that you are most proud of?

We have seen a lot of creative uses for Tag from businesses around the world. The ones that I list in previous answers are ones that stand out to me, but we learn about new ways to use Tag every day. It is a great product to work on in that respect – our customers are always breathing new life into it. You can also check out our Twitter and Facebook communities for new executions.

14. Are there any limitations to Microsoft Tag?

No. There are design guidelines to help Tag work properly across multiple mobile platforms. These guidelines include the size of the Tag and integrity of the image.

15. I know that protecting customer privacy is critical for Microsoft. What information is sent to Microsoft or to third-parties when a mobile-phone user interacts with a tag?

The Microsoft Tag system does not transmit personal data. When a customer scans a Tag, they have the option (on some phones) of allowing the location where the Tag was scanned to be sent to Microsoft and the Tag publisher so that the information presented can be personalized based on your location. No location information is sent at any other time.

16. Any chance of working closely with OEMs to have Microsoft Tag installed by default on mobile phones? Any chance of it being integrated by default in WM7?

Microsoft Tag is committed to a multi-platform mobile strategy by supporting Windows Mobile, J2ME, iPhone, Blackberry, Symbian S60 phones.

17. What efforts are being made to evangelize Microsoft Tag?

We have a team that works with businesses and organizations large and small to help them better reach and serve their customers in creative ways with Microsoft Tag. We’ve also worked to build a variety of different channels so our Tag customers can share their creative uses of the technology – join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, on our blog or via our website:

18. Where do you see Microsoft Tag go in the future? What are your plans for 2010 and beyond?

The possibilities are endless. For 2010, we are focused on helping our customers maximize their use of tag to help them build their businesses. We’re also constantly evaluating new ways we can bridge the divide between the physical and digital worlds.

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