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Contraption-conniptions - Broadcasting & Cable

Contraption-conniptions

Is it really that hard to type in a URL?
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Imagine reading a World Series preview article in Sports Illustrated. On the bottom of the page, you notice a small letter "D" symbol, with green pinwheel markings jutting outward from the letter. You take your Web camera that's hooked up to your PC and wave it at the page.

If you were online, your browser would automatically go, say, to the page on the CNN/SI Web site where more statistics are available than could have possibly been included in the print edition.

Or you are reading an article or ad about a company in Forbes. You run something called a :CueCat Reader across a bar code in the story. Assuming that your :CueCat Reader is attached to your computer while you are on the Internet, you could be taken to the a financial news Web site where you can check the profiled company's stock price. On television, a related product works the same magic.

The :CueCat Reader is a project of Belo Interactive, Young & Rubicam and ING Barings to woo advertisers, who'll first see it on Belo-owned stations. Viewers will download software, provided for free, that, when they are online, will remotely cue their PC to respond to a command embedded in the ad. Their Web browser will then go to the advertiser's Web site, where products shown in the ad can be ordered.

Part of the appeal is eliminating the need for viewers or readers to type in lengthy Web addresses.

Whoa! Although this technology has a lot of supporters, I have my doubts.

For one thing, there's no need for it. Besides, TV-to-Web and print-to-Web convergence technologies seem more designed for marketers hungry for cross-platform (cough) convergence alliances than for consumers.

I don't care what the focus groups say. They don't really matter. Who does? The poor guy who has to rely on :CueCat software to call up a URL or will take the time to find a serial port in the back of his computer to hook up a cable so he can hook up a device he really doesn't need. And I could be wrong, but I don't think he is going to buy this silliness.

"No remembering complex Web addresses or searching endlessly for the right link," Digital: Convergence says of :CueCat. So far, Forbes magazine, NBC, RadioShack and several trade magazines have signed on.

"Is this necessary? What great problem is this trying to solve? How hard is it to type 'ford.com'or 'microsoft.com'into a browser?" asks Ron Hackathorne, technology analyst for Resource Marketing Inc., an e-commerce analyst firm in Columbus, Ohio.

A related product that was announced earlier this year, Digimarc MediaBridge, uses an invisible digital watermark embedded into magazine ads or other printed material. Assuming you've already downloaded and installed the free MediaBridge software, you point your Digimarc-sanctioned Web camera at the magazine page. The software opens your Web browser and sends it to the link embedded in the watermark.

"In real life, you have to have one of the few approved Web cams installed and operational, [or] you need the right software running and you need to know how to operate it," says Cliff Kurtzman, CEO of The Tenagra Corp., a Houston-based Internet marketing agency .

"It would almost seem easier to me to just type in the URL and go to their site than hook up the device and use it. Expecting executives to re-cable their PCs to add the :CueCat reader doesn't sound rational," says Jack Powers, director of the International Informatics Institute.

The conference chairman of the popular Internet World convention series and teacher of a popular media-convergence course at New York University, Powers has seen his share of contraptions.

"There's not enough benefit to the reader," he opines. "What's Forbes' proposition? 'Jerk around with your computer wiring and learn how to scan like a supermarket clerk so that we can send you more advertising.' No thanks."

Russell Shaw is a veteran Internet and broadcast-industry author/journalist based in Portland, Ore., and can be reached by e-mail at russell-shaw@delphi.com. His column appears regularly.

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