Japan's cell phone technology is generally a couple of steps ahead of the USA. One interesting feature of Japanese cell phones is that you can take a photo of a special bar code with the phone, and the mobile phone will perform an action, like visit a Web page or send an email. If this feature were implemented in US cell phones it would have great possibilities for Internet marketing.
Here is a bar code that you could read with a Japanese DoCoMo cell phone:
Here is an example from the menu of a restaurant in Okinawa—notice the square bar code under the URL:
You could visit that URL on your cell phone by photographing the bar code with your cell phone's camera.
Wikipedia has just a little information on this technology:
There is a popular trend in Japan to use the mobile phone handset to read information from special barcodes. The current technology is based on something called 'QR codes' which are a form of 2D barcode that is written out in a square shape instead of a bar shape. The phone handset can scan the barcode using its camera or other input, decode the information, and then take actions based on the type of content. The most popular usage of these QR codes is in advertising. All over Japan there are posters with the codes on and they are found extensively in magazines and even on some people’s business cards. The QR code usually has links to a web site address or email address that the phone can access, or it might contain address and telephone numbers.
Read more about QR codes at Wikipedia.
I am wondering why this technology hasn't caught on in the US yet. I'm sure cell phone companies could make a lot of money from it from the increased use of the Internet on mobile devices (from visiting Web pages through the bar codes). It would be another way to market your Web sites.
UPDATE: Check out the links in the comments for more information about QR barcodes outside of Japan. Interesting stuff, with lots of implications for marketing Web sites to mobile phone surfers.
UPDATE: There is a new article in Silicon Alley Insider that says Google has plans to implement these square barcodes in newspaper ads.
If your phone can read QR barcodes, taking a photo of the following barcode with your cell phone should send you to a mobile version of this blog — please let me know if it works:
UPDATE: There is also a follow-up to this post about Google Print Ad Barcodes.