Doing Radio on TV

RadioOnTVEvery disruptive media technology goes through a phase where its proponents really don’t understand its applications or potential — but use it anyway. Invariably, they do what they’ve always done with their familiar medium, and hope that somehow it will work in the new.

They’re usually wrong. Early TV shows featured former radio dramas and comedies with actors in front of microphones. The fact that it was done in front of a camera added nothing. It took a while for people to realize that this was really a new medium, not just a new way of doing radio with cameras.

The problem is not a new one. Gutenberg’s cast metal type was deliberately manufactured to emulate its hand-lettered predecessor. Ebook readers are engineered to simulate the turning of a physical page — for no reason other than the habits and expectations of traditional users. Smartphone and tablet video is presented as if the device was simply a smaller TV set. The list goes on. The history of today’s new media will be filled with quaint-sounding attempts to “do radio on TV,” rather than invent new, technology-specific ways to tell a story.

Media forms evolve from the technology that generates them — and from the way humans interact with those devices. I don’t know precisely what the ideal content medium is for, let’s say, a wearable digital device. It may contain elements of old media: a text message, an image, an interactive video, an e-commerce link, a 911 call (for when you walk into a wall while accessing the content). But the sum of that new medium will certainly be greater than any of its parts, and will be its own unique and challenging medium.

— John Parsons (john@intuideas.com | www.intuideas.com)

Irony Alert

As I develop my class curriculum for the upcoming PRINT 13 event on creating tablet apps, I realized I needed to become an Apple developer. This was not an unreasonable requirement, since my class involved teaching people how to create content apps for Apple iPad using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) and Quark’s AppStudio.

For the cost of only $99 a year, I thought, “why not? What could possibly go wrong?” So I dutifully went to the Adobe-recommended page (http://bit.ly/Rjz90j) and, with a shiny new Apple ID and a credit card, prepared myself to enter the Holy of Holies.

To my dismay, the vast majority of sites I needed were down for “overhaul.” Check it out:

Apple developer status screen, as of July 26, 2013.
With only two out of 15 servers online, it made me wonder how Apple, with all its marketing panache, can survive over the long haul. Yes, developers will continue to gather at the “cool kids’ table” for bragging rights on the latest gadgets. However, sooner or later, if companies treat developers with disdain, then even the most sycophantic will start to look elsewhere.

InDesign CC and 2D Barcodes

I’ve been reviewing, using, and talking about InDesign since version 1.0. With each new incarnation, I marvel that Adobe continues to add new functionality. After all, it’s page design software; how many new things can there be?

With the latest Creative Cloud-deliverable version, users can now auto-generate QR Codes—those ubiquitous 2D barcodes that, when scanned by one of many smartphone apps, point users to a mobile experience of some kind.

The InDesign feature itself seems to be well implemented. The QR Codes are vector-based, with transparent backgrounds, which means they can be scaled without degradation, and even brought into Illustrator for enhancement. (I’ll explore the issues with that in a future blog.)

What really concerns me is that InDesign’s new feature will put a dubious power in the hands of designers who do not understand the nature of the mobile experience. Everyone I know has had the disappointing experience of scanning a QR Code only to be directed to a non-mobile-optimized website. Worse, there is seldom a viable mobile call to action to be found in many QR-Code-related campaigns. (For examples of how it SHOULD be done, check out www.print2d.com.)

QR Codes are already in disrepute, thanks to ill-advised campaigns and over-use of free QR Code generators on the Web. The new InDesign feature is a logical, potentially practical innovation, but dangerous in the wrong hands.

Six Simple Rules for QR Codes

I’ve written and lectured on this quite a bit lately, so I thought I’d post a summary of best practices for QR Codes and other forms of 2D barcodes. With all the hoopla about integrated media (adding mobile engagement to print or video), it seems that a lot of marketers and advertisers are taking the “ready-fire-aim” approach. QR Codes are not new; they’re just getting a late start in North America. They have enormous positive potential, if used correctly. When used incorrectly, they’ll make you and your campaign look foolish.

For the long version of this list, email me: john@bytemedianews.com.

RULE 1: Keep the “Data Density” Low

The more data you encode the denser the resulting tag will be. A “matrix” of more than 33×33 data pixels increases the risk that it will not be scanned or processed correctly. This holds true for URLs. The shorter the URL, the less dense your QR Code image or tag will be. Use a third party URL shortener like bit.ly or TinyURL, if possible, or create short subdomains.

RULE 2: Print Conditions Matter

QR Code images or “tags” should be at least one inch (2.54 cm) square if the consumer is holding the printed piece. For posters and display media, it needs to be large enough for easy scanning. It must also have sufficient margins around the image. QR Code tags should always be printed for use in optimal viewing conditions and on media suitable for mobile users (e.g., on pedestrian mall signs, not on freeway signs).

RULE 3: Make It Easy to Download a Reader

Most smartphones in North America do not come with 2D barcode reader software preloaded. Until that changes, every QR Code campaign must include a simple means of locating and downloading the software. One great approach is 2DGO (http://2dgo.org), a free 2D barcode assistant.

RULE 4: Make the Landing Page Mobile-Friendly

Nothing will kill your 2D barcode campaign faster than directing users to an ordinary Web page. What works on a regular browser will often frustrate and anger the very people you’re trying to reach. Make sure your landing page is optimized for mobile use.

RULE 5: Offer the User Something Valuable

You’re asking a mobile user to spend his or her time with your brand on their personal, handheld device. Make the experience worth the effort. Offer something the user actually wants — something that meets a real need.

RULE 6: Give the User Something Meaningful To Do

Every QR Code scan and its mobile experience represent potential value: a sale or lead, a more brand-loyal customer, a long-term business relationship. For that to happen, the mobile landing page must include some meaningful, desirable action that the user can take — one that makes sense on a mobile phone. (The list of possible mobile responses is long, but a campaign should only use those that really fit.)

Always give the mobile user a real reason to interact with your brand. Just printing a QR Code without creating an engaging mobile experience is like building the door but forgetting to build the house.