My First GS1 Digital Link Product

When I began working for GS1 in July 2017, the first thing I was given to do was a project called Mobile Ready Hero Images, but it quickly became apparent that the real reason I'd been hired was to work on something else.

For me, the story begins 4 years earlier in February 2013. I'd just been appointed as Data Activity Lead at W3C and a former boss from there, Steve Bratt, had just been appointed CTO at GS1. Early in his tenure, Steve made four phone calls. I don't know who two of them were to but one was to Dan Brickley, the person who runs, the other was me. Danbri recommended GS1 create an extension for to cover products. I recommended that all GS1's barcodes be stuck on the end of a URI stem where you could look up info about identified products. The URIs could also be used as persistent URIs to identify products (i.e., using Linked Data principles).

I don't know the full choreography and I certainly don't claim to be the first or only person to suggest that barcodes needed an upgrade of this type, but a year later, the "GTIN+ On the Web" project was started under the more general banner of "GS1 Digital". It created the GS1 Web Vocabulary, the earliest version of which was published in October 2014 as GTIN+ OTW GS1 Ontology Draft Standard Specification (PDF). The project was originally intended to work on the URI side of things but, for reasons no one's quite sure of,that bit didn't get going until after my arrival in 2017. It seems that Robert Beideman's decision to hire me was part of the plan to finally make it happen.

Since then, thanks to the efforts of lots of people including, most notably, Mark Harrison who devised the detailed syntax, I've spent most of my working days developing, refining and explaining what we now call GS1 Digital Link. It's part of the "Global Migration to 2D Programme" that will see the barcode we've been using for 50 years gradually replaced, principally, although not exclusively, with QR codes that carry URIs in which GS1 identifiers are encoded.

One day, I'll write up a full history — I think it's worth recording — but I just wanted to record that this week, for the first time, I found that I had purchased a product that has a GS1 Digital Link QR code printed on it.

I know that at the time of writing a lot of major brands and retailers around the world are working on the transition to 2D barcodes. They're already becoming commonplace. But this is the first one I found in my own home and, more than 10 years after that call with Steve Bratt, it has a special resonance for me.

The front of a bottle of red wine. An Italian red called Barolo The back of a bottle of red wine. As well as tasking notes and other info, it shows the 1D barcode and a QR code
The QR code contains this URL:

OK, I have lots of moans about this particular example which includes far more elements than is necessary but I'll save that for another day. Today I'm just rather pleased to see it.

For the record, I bought it at Aldi. And yes, it was rather good. Cheers.