Tagging along

BY J. CARLTON COLLINS

Q: I see an increasing number of colorful square patterns popping up in magazines and newspapers, but I don’t understand their purpose. Could you enlighten me?

A: Those colorful square patterns you see are Microsoft Tags. To use them, download the free Microsoft Tag reader to your smartphone and scan the Tag, which works like a hyperlink. Scanning a Tag launches your smartphone’s browser and links you to a specific Web page. Tags have many practical applications; a few examples are listed below:

  1. Tags in magazines and newspapers often link to sound clips, video clips or detailed data on the Web.
  2. A Tag included on your business card could link to your picture and biography on the Web.
  3. A Tag on your Yellow Pages advertisement (or letterhead) could link to your company website.
  4. A Tag on a conference brochure could link to a Web page describing the conference agenda in detail.
  5. A Tag on a real estate sign could link to a detailed description and interior photos of the home for sale.
  6. Tags included on products in retail stores could link to each product’s detailed description and specifications.
  7. Tags included on asset labels could link to Web-based product manuals or warranty information.

You can create Microsoft Tags for free at tag.microsoft.com, as follows. Select Tag Manager from the MY TAGS menu and sign in using your Windows Live ID. (If you do not have a Windows Live ID, click the Sign up button and follow the instructions for creating a free account.) On the left side of the screen, click the Create a Tag button, as shown.

Enter a title for your tag in the Tag Title text box, and the desired URL (Web address) you want the Tag to refer to in the Mobile URL text box, then click Save. Information about your new Tag will then appear in Tag Manager. To complete the process, click the down-arrow icon under the Download column, place a check in the box confirming that you have reviewed the guidelines, and click the Submit button. In the dialog box that follows, click the radio button labeled Tag Barcode, then click the Download button, as circled below.

This produces a PDF file containing the new Tag. (Windows 7 and Vista will display a security dialog box prompting you to either Open or Save the resulting PDF file.) Click the Save dropdown arrow and select Save and Open, and your new Tag will be saved and displayed.

You can use a number of tools to copy and paste the image, or save it to an image file. For example, Windows 7 and Vista users can use the Snipping Tool for this purpose, as follows. Click the Windows Start button and select All Programs. From the Accessories folder, select Snipping Tool (which causes your computer’s monitor to fade to gray). Then use your mouse to click and drag a selection box highlighting your Tag. Next, from the Snipping Tool menu, select File, Save As, enter a name in the File name box, select a file format from the Save as type box (such as GIF or JPEG), and click Save. As an example, scanning the Tag shown below launches a Web page linked to some of the articles I have published.

Test your Tag to make sure it works properly, then include it on your business cards, letterhead, advertisements, product packaging, T-shirts, coffee mugs, baseball caps or anywhere you want to provide quick access to supporting data, driving directions or detailed contact information.

Tags can also be linked to application downloads, text, vCards and phone numbers. You can specify starting and ending dates for Tags linked to time-sensitive information. Be aware that, although Microsoft Tags are rendered in color, they still work when printed in black and white.

Tip: When creating Tags, it is a good idea to link them to Web pages that are specifically sized and formatted to be easily read on a smartphone screen.

Note: Microsoft Tags have evolved from QR (Quick Response) codes, which were originally created by Toyota in 1994 to track vehicles as they moved through the production process. Since then, many variations of QR codes have emerged that can be read by popular QR scanners such as ZXing or Kaywa. You can also create QR codes using the Microsoft Tag tools described above. An example of a QR code is pictured below.

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