Barcodes: Elaborating on an idea

enthusiastic emoticon

Diskettes are definitely going the way of the dodo, and this is good. It’s a very unreliable media and it’s not very useful with today’s file sizes. However, flash memory is still kinda expensive for a lot of applications. You can freely give away a diskette. You can probably do that with a CDR too, though it’s not quite that cheap.

But a flash card usually isn’t. Old, small flash cards do get cheaper by the day, however, as they go cheaper, the profit margin on them diminishes and the retailers stop carrying them, going up in sizes to keep prices above the minimum. This makes using flash cards as media you would give away impractical.

But there is a kind of media that is an absolute price champion when it comes to giving it away — paper. Sure, it’s write only, but if you intend to give it away anyway, why would you need it to be rewritable? The question is how to store information there so that it would be reliably machine-readable.

The answer would be modern barcode standards which allow you to cram relatively high amounts of digital information onto a relatively small surface — for example, DataMatrix ECC200 used in Semacode and readable with a mobile phone’s digital camera.

If it’s possible to fit, say, 30-100 kilobytes of information onto a postcard-sized card with an inkjet printer, it would be quite useful for small documents, texts, various marker and ID files, and possibly many other applications. Reading it would be as simple as scanning it in or taking a digicam picture — and since all scanners I’ve heard of can do at least 150 dpi, and you can’t expect an inkjet to do more than that, even a very old one will do just fine.

There’s lots of advantages to it. No magnetic data loss, practically eternal storage if the right kind of printer is used. Trivial duplication by photocopiers. The only real problem would be having an image input device like a camera or a scanner, and they are slowly becoming widespread enough for this — most offices have at least a scanner, lots of mobile devices come with cameras.

I must experiment with this.

update, years later: What do you know, someone actually did it.