Blobcodes

Malibu Barbie
Bruce Sterling has been on a bit of a 2-D barcode kick at his Wired blog, lately. He's still as obsessed with RFID as ever, but 2-D barcodes have a lot of advantages over a radio-frequency devide. 2-D barcodes don't require anything "smart" in the production. They can be printed in massive numbers without having to think ahead about protocols or even much about the technology of the reader. In its dumbest form it's totally invisible to radio-frequency scanning -- you have to be scanning for visual data to see them -- so as long as you keep the thing out of sight it's about as close as you get to completely secure from remote digital snooping, unlike RFID chips. In the short term, and not necessarily so short term, blobcodes are the path to spime-oriented ubicomp.

Synchronistically, I've been thinking a lot lately about 2-D barcodes. I wrote a story recently that made heavy reference to 2-D barcodes (as well as passive and active RFID chips). I called them "blobcodes" because that just seemed to me to be the most evocative name for them (what do they look like, after all?), and I'm either way too cutting edge or way out of touch because as I write this, "blobcodes" gets precisely two hits on Google. And one of those is a linkspam page. ("Blobcode" does slightly better, but most of those seem to be references to BLOBs.)

Sterling's been posting pictures of lots of different blobcodes, most recently a rash of Semacode-like codes, all intended to embed internet protocol addresses (in this context, that means http or smtp). This is a step beyond the old CueCat scanner in that it's meant to be phone-scannable: Point your camera, press a button or six, and you're WAP'd to the resource in question. It's clear that with minor tweaking -- the addition of a small querystring code should suffice -- you could make tons of information available about a simple object, just by pointing the phone camera at it.

The Shotcode is more aesthetically interesting, though I don't think I'd get a Shotcode tattoo. Tattoos of traditional 1-D barcodes can't be very useful, since those aren't really designed to provide high information-density or error correction, like 2-D barcodes are. And Semacode and other types of blobcodes can be used in very aesthetically pleasing ways. I find myself relating them to the false-scarification I imagined in some ubicomp visions I sketched out a few months back: I thought that in the edge culture, people might get tattoos to mimic scarification in the area over their RFID implants, as a way of expressing their status. But blobcodes, pointing to them -- to the person as a spime -- would be even more cutting edge. Goths (or their lineal descendents) would get artificial scars; Connie Chiatt-Day would get a Semacode.



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