When I used to hang around Brooklyn hipster bars (so, so long ago) there was one tattoo type my fellow denizens sported that was meant to be ironic, even though it's ubiquity served to undercut the snark. I'm speaking of the bar code tattoo, a commentary on the commoditization of the self through the universal "UPC" code affixed to product packaging.
Now it seems that people's identities are becoming affixed to the coding instead of the other way around.
Facebook is testing the use of so-called Quick Response codes for profiles. What this means for the layperson is that a unique, portable visual code could be generated that embeds your Facebook profile information which could then be used anywhere you might want people to access your profile (and the pictures of you there doing the limbo in a grass skirt in a parking lot in the dead of winter).
Why would you want to make your online Facebook profile portable to the offline world?
One obvious answer is the rumored deal between Facebook and Foursquare which would link the geo-tagging mobile check-in application to the nation's largest social media network. The way Foursquare has worked up so far has made it hard for local merchants to verify that people checking in to their locations were actually there. With QR codes, merchants could auto-check you in via Facebook Connect and reward you with coupons directly through your profile. This takes geo-location to the next level for retailers: rewarding customers for frequent purchasing.
A clear stumbling block is the reluctance to make too much personal information accessible to the marketing number crunchers at, say, Starbucks -- or to even to the barista reading your QR on site. Facebook has been walking a fine line lately in encouraging it's users to make more of their information and activity public while avoiding a privacy gaffe that could lead users to abandon the platform. It stands to reason that they will want to allow users to control how much information is revealed automatically in their QR codes once they are rolled out.
For brands the flipside of QR codes for customers could be unique codes for fan pages. The advantage here is that the code could be posted in stores, in print ads, anywhere visual that a user could hold a smart phone (like an iPhone or Android powered phone) up to. Linked to Facebook Connect you could add fans to your brand's Facebook page in real time.
There is power in yoking marketing efforts together in this way, even beyond getting more bang for your buck. Social media sites like Facebook (when harnessed properly) can allow fans to build a deeper connection with brands. A consumer intrigued by a magazine ad can fan the brand's Facebook page and get a taste of what fellow consumers have to say, as well as special offers and more in-depth information -- ultimately leading to a sale.
Similarly becoming a fan at the point of purchase invites the consumer into a brand's "family" -- fostering a relationship that can lead to repeat purchasing and online advocacy of the product or retailer.
So, in the future will we all be using our Facebook profiles as a form of ID? It seems rather unlikely to come to pass -- though government agencies may very well adopt some form of QR-type coding as a universal identifier.
However, before that Orwellian future comes to pass we should contemplate the idea that brand and organizations may, unlike individuals, find a universal code to be an essential part of life. And don't be surprised if you start to see some pretty weird looking tattoos that blossom into a link to a Facebook page when you take a digital picture of them.