By HALLE STOCKTON
LAKEWOOD RANCH - Builder John Cannon knows what sets his homes apart from others, and soon he could personally relay that information to people who visit a model.
Only he will not have to camp out at the homes.
Visitors will be able to use their cell phones to scan a Microsoft tag outside the model to access an interview with Cannon and even take a virtual tour, all before stepping indoors.
"Whatever technology can be used to help prospective buyers absorb and comprehend your product or business is a great tool," Cannon said.
By November, Lakewood Ranch will be dotted with symbols of multicolored prisms on signs, storefronts and homes.
Developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is behind the tech-savvy initiative that will make the East Manatee community the first in the country to be thoroughly tagged.
Microsoft may even feature Lakewood Ranch on its website as tags are deployed at businesses, restaurants and parks, and on wayfarer signs, brochures and even people, said Candice McElyea, a SMR spokeswoman.
Anyone with a web-enabled cell phone can download the free software. The cost of scanning tags, which work like barcodes, depends on the user's data plan coverage.
The tags can dial a phone number; launch videos, maps or websites; and download a restaurant menu or store coupons.
The possibilities are endless, McElyea said.
"We think it could change the face of business and enable consumers to get extra information about business or amenities in Lakewood Ranch," she said. "It will all be at their fingtertips."
The tagging technology was unveiled at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There are about 1 billion tags in use around the world in countries like China, Italy and Turkey, said Microsoft spokeswoman Anna Kim-Williams.
"Microsoft is excited that Lakewood Ranch is using Tag to engage with customers at a deeper level," she said. "Microsoft Tag makes the world around you clickable, and Lakewood Ranch's customers will get a rich, interactive brand experience."
The tags will roll out here in three phases from November through April.
The first phase will be instrumental in introducing home builders and the model schematics during the Lakewood Ranch's annual Tour of Homes on Nov. 6.
There will also be several tags at Main Street restaurants and boutiques by that time, McElyea said.
Tags will be added by January to the retail district, welcome centers, parks, the Sarasota Polo Club, the Cricket Club and more.
The Country Club Golf Course is also discussing placing tags at each hole that would send users to a tips page on how to play that part of the course, McElyea said.
SMR also plans to create a tag clothing line that will be sold at information centers by April. People can then scan other people to watch videos or other media that will reveal news and features of Lakewood Ranch.