Mashing the physical and the virtual: ‘the internet of things’ and barcode archaeology

In this month’s Wired there is a piece by Evan Ratliff about Google Maps. What really caught my interest though, was a side-bar on page156, called ‘The Internet of Things’:

What if you could walk down an unfamiliar street, use your camera phone to take a picture of a building, and instantly know everything about it, from the architect to the list of tenants. The technology to make common objects clickable, like hyperlinked words on a Web site, is available today in the form of 2-d barcodes […]

The side bar goes on to mention Smartpox and, two websites that provide the user with bar-code print outs, and software for the user’s camera phone to read the bar codes.

From the Smartpox website:

What is a Smartpox anyway?
A Smartpox is actually a 2-dimensional barcode. These barcodes contain data that can be decoded using the Smartpox reader. You can create a Smartpox tag using a URL, an email address, a telephone number, or just plain text.

And from the Semapedia website:

Our goal is to connect the virtual and physical world by bringing the right information from the internet to the relevant place in physical space.

To accomplish this, we invite you to create Semapedia-Tags which are in fact cellphone-readable physical hyperlinks. You can create such Tags easily yourself by choosing and pasting a Wikipedia URL into the form above. Once created, you put the Tags up at their according physical location. You just hyperlinked your world! Others can now use their cellphone to ‘click’ your Tag and access the information you provided them.

Now, what got me excited was this thought: archaeological materials, standing remains, different phases of a building, crates of finds from last year’s dig…. all of these could have a barcode printed out for them, from either one of these websites. The investigator could then simply take a photo with her camera phone, and instantly have the information. No more fiddly paper records covered with coffee stains and cigarette ashes…

Imagine also the scene at the museum. Visitor spots an artefact on the shelf that piques his interest. He spots the barcode, photographs it, and instantly he has access to the excavation report. I could imagine subsequent secondary literature also being linked through to the barcode.

My hands shake too much for me to be of much use writing site codes and catalogue numbers onto objects using indelible ink. But a barcode that can be printed out on demand – that I can get my shaky hands on.