QR codes at heart of lost-and-found service Belon.gs

belongsqrlabel

A topic I’ve written about frequently here is QR codes, those square, random-looking black-and-white images that are meaningless to the eye but content-rich to a cameraphone and some barcode-scanning software.

These little barcodes are popping up everywhere these days, and how they’re being used by marketers attracts praise and derision in almost equal measure.

Given my glass-half-full approach to such matters, I love discovering imaginative uses of these powerful little tools.And here’s an interesting one – QR codes as an integral element of a new service describing itself as “the next generation global lost-and-found service.”

Finnish/US startup Belongs launched its service in beta last month. What it does is simple as its launch announcement says:

[...] Order free tag stickers from the Belon.gs website (www.belon.gs), claim them online and stick them to your valuables. When your item gets lost, the finder can scan the tag’s QR code with their smartphone or access the web address on the tag. The owner is automatically notified, and anonymous chat is established between the two parties to arrange the return of the lost item. To further incentivize the returning of valuables, Belongs supports setting rewards for found items through PayPal, and the Belongs technology will streamline the transfer of the reward from owner to finder.

The service is free for individuals – there is a paid service for businesses – so I signed up and ordered some free tag stickers, which arrived in the post from the US a few days ago.

Setting up an item with a tag and sticker is simplicity itself. What you do is use one of the QR code stickers for a valuable (a netbook computer, for instance), go to the Belongs website via your computer or mobile device and describe that item in your Belongs account, and stick the rectangular sticker to the item. The stickers are quite small, about one inch by half an inch (about 25mm x 13mm).

The image at top shows one I did, stuck to a netbook just beneath the sticker with the Windows product information. If you scan the QR code – a unique one for each of your valuables – with your smartphone or go to the web address shown on the sticker, you’ll get a description page about the valuable with information on what to do next.

You can offer a reward if your item does get lost and someone finds it and makes contact with Belongs via the QR code sticker, which I did; setting that up via PayPal is also a simple procedure.

So you have your stuff tagged and stickered and you venture out on your travels with confidence! Belongs says its job is to “encourage good deeds” where basic honesty will prevail when someone finds your valuable that you’ve lost.

They describe such altruism thus:

    • Enabling you to tag your items with our high quality personalized tag stickers
    • Letting you offer a reward for your item
    • Making it possible for finders to receive a reward for the good deed
    • Offering full anonymity for everybody
    • Offering our services internationally and multilingually
    • Making it as easy and trustworthy as possible
    • Giving Belon.gs tags for free for the people

I’d like to think the same although I also have a pragmatic view where if you do lose your netbook, iPhone, iPad, camera or whatever it might be, file an insurance claim rather than only wait for a Good Samaritan to get in touch with Belongs.

I’ve been wondering where the monetization for Belongs lies, and clearly that must be primarily in the paid service for businesses that enters into the realm of enterprise asset management. For individuals and small businesses, the free service would be fine (and you can donate to Belongs if you wish to, which I did).

Time will tell how successful Belongs will be (and how honest people are), But I love the idea and imagination behind the use of QR codes in this way.

About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.