Upgrading the Barcode to the Web: GS1 Digital Link

We are very excited to announce the ratification of the GS1 Digital Link standard (aka GS1 Web URI), a simple but game changing revolution for the trillions of barcode enabled products across the world. In short, the GS1 Digital Link upgrades barcodes to: 1) be scannable out-of-the-box by consumer phones; 2) be seamlessly connected to the Web by embedding Web addresses instead of just numbers; and 3) ensures there is one standard barcode to address any application vs. a proliferation of barcodes for different applications.


Now is the time for every thing to get connected to the Web! We co-chaired the GS1 Standards Development Work Group that defined this new specification and look forward to sharing more detail in this blog.

At EVRYTHNG we are firm believers in the power of standards: global standards are hands-down one of the best ways to proliferate game-changing innovation at mass scale. Those following EVRYTHNG might recall that in 2015 we contributed the very first draft of the Web of Things standard at W3C which was used as a basis for the upcoming W3C WoT standard. Since then this standard has been widely adopted by big players including, Mozilla.

While the W3C WoT standard allows devices to seamlessly connect to the Web, it overlooks the vast majority of “things” in the IoT — things or products that are not devices such as, Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) and apparel products.

Consumer product brands are at the core of what the EVRYTHNG IoT platform supports. Our very first application back in 2012 was about giving whiskey bottles a unique digital identity on the Web to allow digital gifting. Since then we have connected close to a billion serialized CPG and apparel products to the Web. And while this is all great — in order to facilitate mass scale adoption — we needed to move beyond an EVRYTHNG proprietary innovation to an open standard. Thus our leading the charge with GS1 to create a new standard allowing every unique product to automatically connect to the Web with a digital identity.

GS1 is the global standards organization responsible for the trillions of barcodes seen on the products we use every day. As a GS1 Solutions Provider, we decided it was time to approach the standards organization with our idea to create a new standard to support Web-based digital identities for everyday consumer products. Thankfully we were greeted with agreement and in turn, were asked to co-chair the working group that developed the new standard. Fast forward a year, dozens of working sessions, prototypes, field tests and we are very happy to announce that the GS1 Digital Link standard has been ratified!

Reading this blog, you are either already one foot out the door on your way to implement GS1 Digital Link for your next product release or you are scratching your head wondering what’s all the hype?

Either which way, I’d like to provide a little more context. To start, please meet a GS1 barcode as it appears on trillions of products, scanned 5 billion times a day.

This barcode has been providing great services to supply chains across industries for 44 years but in the age of IoT, it has two major shortcomings: it is not scannable nor understandable by billions of consumer phones.

Specifically, mobile phones cannot decode 1D barcodes without installing a special app. However, they can widely read QR codes. As an example, since iOS 11 was released all iOS devices can decode QR codes using the default camera application — meaning GS1 standard identifiers can be adapted to 2D barcodes such a the QR code.

This said even while able to scan GS1 compliant (QR) codes, readers still can’t understand what’s encoded in the code. In other words: they have no idea what to do with the series of numbers it contains (usually known as a GTIN in the GS1 world). How do I get authoritative content and services for this code? The new GS1 Digital Link standard resolves this issue by turning all the information contained in the code (and more) into a Web address or URL (aka Web URI). This is truly game-changing because mobile phones and literally every software client in the world, support URLs and know how to use them to access content.

Putting it all together, please meet a GS1 Digital Link Web URI:

Which can be encoded in an on-pack QR code:

Now, go ahead and scan this, either using your iOS camera app or any other QR code reading app on your phone. This will redirect you to a Web experience chosen by the brand. The brand has dozens of options ranging from the provenance of the product, allergy information to rewards, and more.

Brands can also choose to create static redirections or they can make them fully dynamic linked to a specific context (e.g., user demographic, location, time, etc.) using EVRYTHNG’s patented Redirector technology.

This allows consumer product brands to deliver relevant content directly to consumers via a single standards-based code serving multiple applications rather than individual proprietary codes for each application. The power of GS1 Digital Link doesn’t stop here. The new standard also has the power to replace the well-known 1D barcode as more and more Point of Sales (POS) vendors and supply chain partners begin to support it. We are already working with a number of POS vendors and supply chain partners to test this upgrade and will keep you posted. In the meantime, have a look at our detailed whitepaper to understand the full power and structure of the Digital Link.

In Summary: A New Digital Ecosystem
The new GS1 Digital Link standard works with a 2D barcode (e.g., QR code) or NFC tag on packs or labels. Now, every product can have its own digital identity and Web address, upgrading the traditional 1D barcode used on trillions of products for point-of-sale with the new ability to support smartphone interaction, supply chain tracking, authentication and many other applications. EVRYTHNG’s IoT platform, in combination with GS1 Digital Link, make it possible for any product to very simply deliver dynamic digital services directly to consumers based on scan context, and to gather and apply data intelligence for brands, manufacturers and retailers at unprecedented scale.

Quite literally one new standards-based code has the potential to replace all previous codes. We are very excited to be the first platform to support the new GS1 Digital Link standard, read our documentation to get started today!

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