If Knowtate, a San Jose, Calif. company, has its way, every interesting object in the world would feature its sticker. These stickers, “talk bubbles” with 2-3 digits in them, are called “knowtations,” and would enable anyone with a mobile phone to type those digits into an application and instantly receive relevant information.

For example, a knowtation on a car in a car show could deliver reviews of the car from Car and Driver, its estimated blue-book value and a targeted marketing message. A knowtation on a billboard could tell why you should buy the product and perhaps even offer a link to a retail outlet from which to do just that. Knowtations can be educational, they can be entertaining, they can deliver multimedia to your mobile phone.

In principle, this kind of thing could change the way we interact with the world. Mobile phones have changed our lives by reducing the friction in communication, but have not altered our engagement with static objects. A technology that seamlessly enables us to get rich information, on demand, about any object around opens up all kinds of doors.

There are a number of technologies designed to “mark up” the physical world and link it to your phone. The most prominent technology, moderately successful in Japan, is QR Codes, created by an automotive parts conglomerate called Denso to replace conventional barcodes. These contain far more information than a barcode, but unlike Knowtate, QR codes require you to take a picture of the code or have scanning abilities built into your phone.

Knowtate’s approach is much simpler. It takes an index of 2-3 digit codes and ties each one to an object in a specific location. Using the location awareness capabilities of your phone (either triangulation or GPS) it knows that a knowtation with “12” in my neighborhood is different than the same knowtation on an object 5 miles away. By combining the index of possible numbers with geo-tagging, Knowtate can effectively re-use any of the possible 3 digit numbers to an almost infinite degree.

The company intends to make money “renting” the knowtations that are used for commercial purposes and charging a small transaction fee each time that knowtation delivers a lead.

The big, ugly hurdle in front of Knowtate that it requires a step-change in consumer behavior: Convincing the mass market to recognize that a three-digit number on a sticker on a car or a billboard means it’s time to type those digits into a cell phone is a Herculean task. Fortunately, Knowtate seems to have a reasonably sound strategy in mind. It will start with product-oriented conventions and college campuses, educate the target audience like mad and hope it sticks. Using the product is simple enough, and if it truly delivers value in line with the required effort, it might actually work.

The company has been bootstrapped until now, and is looking to raise around $6.5 million.


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