RFID

Like many promising technologies, it comes with a host of issues

If your business involves manufacturing or shipping, chances are good that you’ve either used -- or seriously considered using -- RFID (radio frequency identification) tags for tracking purposes. Although those industries have largely driven the RFID revolution to date, the technology is now breaking out into many other fields thanks to a combination of business, legal, and regulatory pressures.

That’s great news, and it would be even better news if RFID did not come saddled with so many unsolved problems, as Senior Contributing Editor David Margulius makes clear in this week’s cover story, “The Rush to RFID.” Margulius talked to shippers, manufacturers, vendors, and more for direct, practical insights into implementing RFID. For example, read-error rates can reach double-digit percentages if reader, tags, and environment are not properly controlled.

As RFID passes into more public uses (such as at Wal-Mart), privacy advocates have mounted a passionate campaign against RFID that is reminiscent of the fight to ban genetically engineered vegetables. Without taking sides, I’d have to bet that the tags will eventually find their way into most retail stores but with modifications that take the privacy worries into account.

None of these are insurmountable issues. All will be solved. But Margulius’ investigation provides guidance if your company is lucky -- or unlucky -- enough to be part of the solution.

Speaking of problem solvers, you still have time to submit nominations for the InfoWorld Innovatorsawards. These awards go to people or groups who are using IT in truly innovative ways. (For additional information, contact Features Associate Editor Jack McCarthy at jack_mccarthy@infoworld.com.)

Finally, my March 29 column, "Numerical Reputation," in which I proposed a numeric score for personal reputation, brought a batch of fun responses -- including one that began, “Dear Mr. McKean: You are one scary guy.”

Maybe so. But as usual it turns out that such systems have been invented many times before — possibly by guys even scarier than me. Take San Francisco-based author Cory Doctorow, for example. He built an entire work of fiction around the concept of a numerical reputation he calls Whuffie in his fascinating 2003 novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

I’d like to tell you to rush right out and buy this book, which is published by Tor Booksin New York. But you can also download it for free from Doctorow’s Web site. So thanks to Doctorow for an enjoyably scary narrative — and to the various readers who alerted me to him.

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