Gazette publisher and editor-in-chief Alan Allnutt introduced a new feature in today's paper: articles are being outfitted with little boxes containing keywords, which when texted to a special short code sends an email with a link to the article (and any online extras attached to it).
It's a three-month pilot project being tested by The Gazette and the Calgary Herald. The technology side is handled by Montreal-based Cmore Media (not to be confused with C-More Systems, which makes gun sights).
The idea is similar to the one that has led to 2D barcodes appearing in newspapers such as the National Post: It's a way to bridge the gap between the non-electronic physical newspaper and the endless possibilities of Internet communication. People who want to get online-only extras related to a story or who want to share the URL with friends online have to go to the newspaper's website and search for the story. This is inconvenient, so these tags are designed to make it automatic, taking advantage of the fact that people carry cellphones with them wherever they go.
But while Scanlife, the system used by the Post, requires a mobile device to have a camera and a special application, the Cmore system requires only the ability to send a text message (and the patience to do so).
Here's how it works:
1. Send a text message as instructed. For this test case, I used the one next to an article on Joannie Rochette being on the Time 100 poll. The keyword is "ROCHETTE123" (capitalization isn't important) and the shortcode to send it to is 11-2-11. ("123" is one of the codes to identify to Cmore that the keyword belongs to The Gazette, so each keyword will end with 123 on weekdays, or 124 on Saturdays or 125 on Sundays).
2. Almost instantaneously, you get a reply text message asking to send your email address:
To get your info, reply to this message with your email address.
Standard rates apply. For help email firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Reply with your email address.
4. Cmore sends an email to the address you've entered:
Hi [first part of email],
Thanks for signing up for CMORE, the free service that delivers shortcuts to more content online. You have successfully activated your free account. You may log in at your convenience at http://www.cmoremedia.com.
Username: [email address]
Your temporary password is the mobile phone number you used to text your request to CMORE. You may change your password once you have logged in.
All the shortcuts you request using the CMORE service will be emailed to you at the address you provided and also stored in your personal MY CMORE profile. You may reset your password, edit your CMORE profile and view and manage your shortcuts at http://www.cmoremedia.com. Please remember to add CMORE to your email white list so your requested shortcuts do not end up in your spam folder.
To learn more about CMORE or to get help please visit www.cmoremedia.com/FAQ/
Thank you for using CMORE. The Internet. Delivered.
5. Another email contains what you were looking for:
Hi [first part of email],You have requested more information on Rochette ranks in TIME's top 100 from The Gazette.
Special offers from The Gazette:
For further messages, steps 2-4 are skipped.
The service is free, unless your mobile carrier forces you to pay for text messages (or, I guess, your Internet provider charges you for emails).
Not only is this being attached to news stories, but advertisers can also use the service to communicate with print readers. And the emails themselves can contain advertisements, as you can see above.
So, will it work?
I'm kind of a skeptic when it comes to these kinds of gimmicks. On paper, they sound fantastic. Apparently they're all the rage across the Atlantic and Pacific. They're a way to track people's behaviour. They connect the online with the print. And they're a fantastic idea for advertisers, a way to facilitate communication as a result of a newspaper ad.
But in practice, they're an extra mile most people will choose not to go. In my case, for example, I read the paper on the metro on the way to work, where there's no mobile service for the most part and I can't send a text message. Many of the Gazette's readers are older people who either don't have cellphones or don't know how to send text messages (and don't want to learn). And, of course, many people just won't be interested in reading more about a story than has appeared in the paper. And if they want to share the story with friends, a 10-second Google News search is faster than fumbling with the phone to send a text message. (Sending these messages is difficult for me because the 1 key doubles as the everything-punctuation key, forcing a lot of scrolling.)
Even if it doesn't work, it's a three-month test, so there's no harm done.
What are your predictions? Will it take off, or will it die out from disuse?