Skanz bands: QR codes get social

Consumer Reports News: June 29, 2011 11:53 AM

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If you haven't already heard about QR codes, it's likely you're about to. Late last week while I was attending the CE Week event in New York, I came across an interesting company, called Skanz, that's hoping to make its brightly colored silicon wrist bands, which feature printed mobile QR codes that can be scanned with smart-phone cameras, as popular with college students and young adults as Silly Bandz are with kids.

But Skanz isn't just for the young and fashionable: The company will also be offering code stickers that can be placed on the back of cell phones, as well as cell-phone covers (and even bands in more subdued hues, such as black) for those looking to make a less dramatic first impression.

If you're not familiar with them, QR codes are like super-charged versions of the more common bar codes, and they're becoming increasingly common in commercial applications, especially retail print ads and catalogs. Shoppers can scan the codes to get discounts, watch videos or product demos, or even purchase items.

But Skanz's approach, using QR codes as a social and business networking platform, is unique. It leverages the higher data-storage capability of the 2D QR codes (one-dimensional bar codes are limited to 20 numerical digits) to let users share personal contact information—phone numbers, email addresses, websites—Facebook and Twitter pages, and even favorite songs and videos, with others. All you need to do is let someone scan your QR code with a smartphone loaded with a QR reader app.

Here's how it works: You first need to register with Skanz (www.skanz.com), where you create a personalized mobile website, called a "Skanzsite." You can customize your Skanzsite with wallpaper, choose the content you want to share, and secure all or some of the information with a password if you desire. All the information is stored in the QR code, which is called a Socialprint. Within your profile page you'll be able to see all the people—and their available information—you've scanned. All the information can be regularly updated and customized.

For those who'd like to make a fashion statement and "Wear the Web"—the company's catch-phrase—the QR code can be printed onto a colored Skanz wristband. For a bit less flamboyant approach, you can get your QR code printed on a cell-phone case or a sticker/decal that can be applied to the back of your phone. All the information you've made available is unlocked when it's scanned by someone using a smartphone with Internet access and a QR reader app.

Right now, you have a choice of keeping all your information public, password-protecting just your contact information, or password-protecting all your data. If you secure your information, you simply need to provide a password to those you allow to access your data. The company's chief marketing officer, Tammy Lewis, tells me that additional permissions will be enabled in future versions of the service, offering greater flexibility for protecting the different types of information in your account, such as allowing access to your office phone but not your cell phone number.

While the initial target market for Skanz bands is younger, social users—college students, 20-somethings, and those active in the singles scene who can share their digital lives with a single swipe of a cell phone—Lewis also sees Skanz being used in professional environments, not only replacing business cards for contact-sharing during busy conferences, but also as a way for parties to set up a virtual meetings or create limited-duration special events of all types.

Skanz is slated to launch in late July, and there's no cost to create a Skanzsite and get a virtual QR code. (There are no monthly or recurring fees.) The coded Socialprint will appear on your profile page, and you can share that code with others over the Internet for free. A decal/sticker can be purchased online for $5, a wristband costs $15, and cell-phone covers will be priced at $20. Items can be purchased directly from the company, or from retailers that carry the accessories. If you buy an item at retail with an embedded QR code, that code will be paired to the one you received when you set up your Socialprint. The company says that it will allow users to opt in to special offers, promotions, and discounts.

By the time Skanz launches next month, it should have free Skanz QR reader apps for both Android and iPhone smartphones. The app is already available in the Android Market, and it will be available in the iTunes store within the next few weeks.

If you'd like to find out more about Skanz, visit the company's website, which is currently in a private beta. But enter your email address into the provided space and it's likely you'll be invited to check out the service in the next few weeks—perhaps with some type of promotional offer. Let us know what you think if you give it a try.

James K. Willcox

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