Cross and Digital:Convergence in Technology Deal

Venerable pen manufacturer A.T. Cross unveiled plans to combine a startup’s bar code scanning technology into one of its pens — allowing users to link offline content and ads with online Web sites.

The $90 Cross :Convergence pen, which can scan and store up to 300 bar codes/URLs, doubles as a normal pen. However, when run over a bar code printed in a print publication, ad, or on a consumer product, the pen will store a URL that can be visited later, when downloaded into a user’s PC.

The product is aimed at helping users visit Web sites related to the printed material, where they can find product information or make a purchase, without having to remember or type in a lengthy URL.

Cross said it and Dallas-based Digital:Convergence, a player in the print and Web convergence space, had been working to produce a mobile, pen-based version of Digital:Convergence’s :CueCat scanner.

Digital:Convergence already has a roster of partner magazines and newspapers (including WIRED and Forbes) that include Web addresses in their publications. But the deal with A.T. Cross represents an important evolution for the :CueCat, allowing users to carry the device with them — important since many users don’t restrict their reading to within a few feet of a PC.

“Print-to-Internet linkage needs to be mobile and wireless to be truly successful since people will more likely scan magazines, products, catalog information, or parts and inventory when they are away from a PC,” said Cross president and chief executive Dave Whalen. “The pen is an ideal form for a scanner as it won’t add to the number of gadgets that people normally carry.”

While A.T. Cross brings some old-economy clout to Digital:Convergence’s business proposition, privacy advocates expressed concern earlier in the year that the :CueCat tracked, recorded and transmitted information — like users’ reading and Web surfing habits — to the company, which then potentially could build a database of users’ online activities. Digital:Convergence flatly denied all wrongdoing and said it cookied users’ Web browsers (and asked for name, gender and geographical information) for demographic purposes only.

Digital:Convergence’s :CueCat isn’t alone in the space. Another company, findtheDot, has a similar print-to-Web solution, while another firm, Digimarc, has developed convergence software for use with digital cameras. Two weeks ago, a Maynard, Mass., company, JumpJot, announced a $500,000 venture capital round and plans to develop barcode technology and a microchip to power barcode readers.

Another player in the print-to-Web convergence space, Ultigo, closed its doors late last month. Unlike the other companies, Ultigo actually digitized magazine articles, placed those online, and built in hypertextual and e-commerce features. Ultigo had done the work for Teen Magazine and Marie Claire. The company also said it had plans to do the same for ads beginning in December.

When it announced its deal with Teen, Ultigo executives positioned the company as a way of linking offline content to online Web pages and e-commerce without the privacy worries associated with the :CueCat, and without the effort of configuring a computer device.

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