Are We Ready for Convergence Yet?

For the last week, I’ve had a plastic cat, about the size of a computer mouse, attached to my computer. Its nose glows red, and it’s supposed to change the way I use the Internet forever.

It won’t. In fact, today, after a week of testing, I’m going to unplug the gadget and put it into my collection of Internet relics.

The device is called :CueCat, and it’s a bar code reader that’s designed to bridge the gap between print media and the web. Users can swipe specially designed bar codes in print advertisements and be “instantly transported” to a corresponding web page for more information. The :CueCat also can read the UPC codes on consumer products, and the ISBN codes on CDs and books.

The vision for this product is that it will “converge” print and the web. But after having used the device with Forbes and Wired magazines, both of which have :CueCat-enabled advertisements and content in this month’s issues, I think it’s safe to say that :CueCat is not going to take the world by storm.

The main problem with :CueCat is that it offers very little value for the investment in the time and energy it takes to install it. It took me a half an hour to install the software and hardware necessary to make it work. I had to register, restart my computer, and retrieve a password from my email box. What a pain. And what do I get? Mainly a substitute for typing in a web address.

Remember the last time you saw an advertisement in a magazine, and you decided immediately to go to the web site for more information? And then it was so difficult to type in the web address that you gave up, frustrated and disappointed? Neither do I. :CueCat is a cure where there’s no disease.

Swiping the bar codes of advertisements in Forbes and Wired brought me to related web sites, almost always the home page of the company being advertised. It takes about 10 seconds to successfully swipe a code, and about 15 percent of the time I ended up on a page on the :CueCat site telling me that the code was not translatable.

Swiping the UPC codes on products like cans of Coke is kind of fun at first (when it works, which seems about half the time). But not fun enough to warrant a plastic mouse cluttering my desk all day. Until there is a substantial installed base, most companies won’t create special content for :CueCat. A classic paradox, because people won’t install :CueCat without content of value.

The company that makes :CueCat also makes :CRQ, which connects your TV with your computer. When a specially equipped ad comes on TV, your computer automatically goes to a corresponding web site. Installing that piece of technology requires a special cable from RadioShack.

:CRQ is based on the premise that consumers want more advertising. They don’t. And I don’t think consumers are going to go out of their way to coordinate their living rooms so we can experiment with cross-media promotion.

The main problem with :CRQ and :CueCat is that they are solving a problem for advertisers, not consumers. So the technology is ad-centric, not customer-centric. And as this industry is slowly learning, anything on the Internet that doesn’t offer value to customers is discarded, avoided, blocked, or ignored.

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