Use The AT&T Code Generator And Show Your Ignorance

After breaking the news 3 days ago on AT&T’s Datamatrix and QR Code scanner and generator here is a closer look.

Imagine the scene (you may even have done it), you meet someone who gives you a QR Coded business card, you scan it with your mobile device and store the contact details. Job done.

Here is what happens when you meet someone who has put an AT&T generated code on their business card.

You look at the code on the business card, “This doesn’t look like a QR Code” you say. “Ah!” they say “I generated it with AT&T’s code generator, I think it is a Datamatrix Code”. You scan it with your mobile device to see what happens and because most scanners will decode both types of code it works.

However the scanned code reads ‘5240000052838881’, “It’s just a number” you say. “Ah!” they say “That’s the unique identifier that is used when you access the server where my contact details are”. “OK” you say, “how do I access the server”? “Just download the AT&T Code Scanner, you can get it from AT&T or an app store” they say.

Back at your office you search for AT&T’s code generator, go to the download site and read the following: “Your Device is not compatible to download this app. Here is a list of compatible devices for the AT&T Code Scanner App: Apple iPhone 2G, 3G, 3Gs, iOS4 (coming soon) Android Motorola Backflip, HTC Aria, Samsung Captivate RIM Blackberry 9700, 9000, 8900, 8520, 8320”.

You think about this, the owner of this business card has chosen not to embed their data in the code but to put it somewhere where you can’t get at it. Not only that but even if you had been able to download the application it would (in the absence of a WiFi connection) have used your data plan to retrieve their contact details. In the absence of both it would have been impossible.

Your conclusion is inevitable, you throw the business card away on the grounds that anyone who uses this proprietary system hasn’t a clue what they are doing.

Agree? Disagree? I would be interested to hear your comments.

21 thoughts on “Use The AT&T Code Generator And Show Your Ignorance”

  1. Roger,

    Great Post and I agree with you entirely. at&t brings great exposure to the barcode space but if they can’t execute properly then it may do just as much bad as good.

    It’s a slight stretch but I believe your example above breaks Rule #3 “Make the content valuable.”

    Hard to find value in ‘5240000052838881? when all I want is an individual’s contact information.

    Just my thoughts.


    Erik Goldhar,

  2. Hi Roger …

    Thank you for the level of detail that you provide in your “2d code” analysis about the AT&T Create-A-Code service.

    In my article, “Top 10 Mistakes To Avoid When Integrating Two Dimensional (2D) Codes In Your U.S. Marketing Plans” … … I added a Postscript for “Bad 2D Implementation Examples” that links to your commentary (above) about the AT&T Create-A-Code service.


    Dan Smigrod
    CEO & Chief Creative Officer
    Atlanta, GA USA

  3. Agree.

    I also feel it’s a bit pretentious to put any QR Code on your business card at this moment in time. It’s like saying, “hey, look, I’m bleeding edge and you’re not.” Bad first impression.

    Give me a nicely designed business card and interesting card stock. Give me an image/icon that I can grasp in a second and it tells me something about you then and there. If I’m interested, it will take me a minute to input your phone/email/name in my address book.

    Not everything needs a Tag on it. A business card does not need to be a gateway to something else, it can just “be” what it is.

  4. i agree with your conclusion. it would be great to see more use of qr-codes, though not like this.

  5. Totally agree! I went through the same process. Tested it, saw the number generated, and just ditched. Putting the onus on the recipient is unacceptable.

  6. All the more reason for a clearinghouse.

    When is everyone going to wake up and smell the coffee already?!


  7. AT&T took a “public” code and tried to create a proprietary implementation. It is simple to encode the data without using Att tool or database . That way any generic imaging reader or 2d app reader will understand it.

  8. The ATT website didn’t CLAIM it was creating a QR code.

    However I agree that it’s pretty much a low-usability code that’s locked to the AT&T app for reading, which severely limits the usefulness. ‘Teh Goggle’ doesn’t show any hits when I entered (via my 2D scanner) the decoded text from the first ad on the examples page (5415400001000142).

    It’s the old chicken-and-egg problem: How to get the chicken to pay for its own eggs.


  9. I agree with all comments except Sam’s. At what stage do you propose to start putting codes on cards Sam? I purposely show people the code everytime and in so doing, help spread the word. A lot of people with blackberrys automatically know what the code is. I think it is forward thinking, not pretentious.

  10. I honestly have mixed feelings.

    I am happy that a carrier is “moving” toward a right direction, but I think they could have improved upon their implementation.

    For the mobile industry, I think this is very good for awareness of codes and mobile UX. So, the macro question would be examining the cost/benefits of awareness vs. bad first impressions for the first wave of the early majority.

    Details can always be smoothed over and refined. But for a giant to start looking in the right direction, I would hope that this would be a win. Baby steps for the giant.

    I am sure this was a group decision that may have only be approved if they could find some way where they could “control” the growth of an open source technology. Hopefully the control and directionality of that growth will shift to be more customer centric in the coming months.

    2 cents.

    Patrick, QrArts

  11. DM and QR have been open standards for years why would go backwards. We as well as others have adopted & utilize an open standard 2d Code. All the customers we deal with DO NOT want a proprietary code or client.

    AT&T would best serve the industry to assure all the cell phones they procure and sell can actully read small (8-10mm-sq) 2d codes 100% of the time to give users a great experience. As of today, depending on the phone type, the user experienc can range from poor to great, however most experience poor.

    I wrote a blog on this, “Critical on 2d for Ubiquity in Print”, check it out at:
    Thanks for starting this thread, Roger

  12. I would strieght out say to the person that thier card failed since it didn’t provide any value to our meeting and soften the blow by offering my companies design services to help improve thier prospective sales.

    Over all a failure of understanding the technology involved isn’t the problem but the implementation that was. This leads to open opportunities for the true experts in the field to promote thier skills and open standards.

    While I agree with a few commenters that having a QRcode enabled business cards does say bleeding edge and your not. But, it also says I’m experienced with the net generation and web 3.0 which is in my line of work and the local market says a lot more than any degree or over worked portfolio.

  13. Great concept, poorly executed by AT&T. And that is a surprise?

    They tried to co-opt an open standard with a “closed” implementation. Like MS Tag, you have to go to them to get any value. At lease MS gets credit for inventing a new code.

    Sam, if it makes people curious, why not? I have had a Data Matrix on the back of my business card since 1999, when only a few companies like Intel were using it commercially.All the text on my card was encoded in a symbol 1/4 inch square. It raised questions & I was an evangelist.

  14. If a digital string is useless, it seems remarkable the UPC ever found traction. Or the ISBN, RSS, EAN, JAN, …

    While I am personally not putting a barcode on the very small real estate of a business card, the AT&T solution should give users the option of a very small footprint compared to directly embedded contact information. That said, they have some work to do on this very beta-feeling solution.

    If you want to electronically send contact information, there are more elegant solutions than a barcode on your business card – such as Bump on the iPhone.

  15. AT&T’s code generation service aside (which I totally agree, it’s a complete FAIL), it’s reader is kinda nice.

    The iPhone version is nicely full featured and reads normal QRs and DMs quite well. The only feature lacking is the zoom slider in the camera. NeoReader and i-Nigma both have this.

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