Digital Watermarking, From The Serious To The Truly Strange

We're starting to hear about more digital watermark applications, where the image-capturing (camera) and communication capabilities of cellphones make them ideal tools to connect printed material with Web sites. We reported last month about NeoMedia and its digital watermark flavor called iPOS (Interactive Point of Sale). This week saw an Oregon company called Digimarc roll out its version in a series of cafes in Japan.

The two approaches illustrate the versatility of this hybrid, which literally is multi-channel as it bridges a customer experience from a purely brick-and-mortar activity--such as looking at a poster in a promotion display--to online. But it does it with virtually (no pun intended) no physical activity on the part of the customer.

The NeoMedia take was all-business and involved connecting customers from promotional material to Web content and perhaps Web POS. The Digimarc Japan rollout is solidly in the entertainment space. The cafes are a Japanese chain called Amusement Cafe Maids which feature--I couldn't make this up--"servers dressed like maids who entertain their guests by dressing up as characters from favorite video game and comic book series and singing, dancing, and playing games with their customers."

Those customers download reader software and then use their phones to scan digitally watermarked images on lots of items including drink coasters. They'll then be able to access information that they'll need to know about the characters. Please don't get me wrong, but I am assuming sobriety is discouraged in these establishments, which will make the typing-less data entry even more convenient.