GS1 Digital Link: A Gateway Towards Trillions of Digital Twins —
A New Standard Integration with a Decentralized Knowledge Graph
It was 8:01 a.m. on June 26th, 1974 when Clyde Dawson, head of research and development for Marsh Supermarket, purchased a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum from a cashier named Sharon Buchannan at Marsh Stores in Troy, Ohio and the checkout went “beep” for the first time. Dawson later explained that he chose this product in particular because nobody had been sure that a bar code could be printed on something as small as a pack of chewing gum. However, Wrigley had found a solution to the problem.
Decades before his vision was brought to life, the inventor of the barcode, Joe Woodland, drew the first bar code in the sand in Miami Beach. Confident that the invention would bring about a revolution in supermarket efficiency, Woodland left graduate school in the winter of 1948 to live in an apartment owned by his grandfather in Miami Beach. He had cashed in some stocks to tide him over. It took until 1974 for the barcode to bring about far-reaching consequences in the world economy.
Now, nearly half a century after that historic first “beep” prompted a great leap forward in retail, a new standard has been born and is linking the physical world with the internet. It is called GS1 Digital Link.
The GS1 Digital Link standard extends the power and flexibility of GS1 identifiers — the numbers you see beneath barcodes everywhere — by making them part of the Web. With more than 5 billion barcodes scanned daily around the world — there are more transactions than Google searches every day — the GS1 Digital Link upgrade of this technology that is more than 40 years old is paving the way for a paradigm shift in connecting the world of things. That means the GS1 identifiers, such as the GTIN, are now a gateway to consumer information, which strengthens brand loyalty and improves supply chain traceability information, business partner APIs, patient safety information, and more. In fact, a lot more.
How Does It Work?
“The GS1 system and the technologies that drive the World Wide Web are mature and massively implemented. GS1 Digital Link combines those two so that every identified ‘thing’, be it a product, a shipment, or any other kind of asset, can be linked to any number of sources of information about that thing using familiar and ubiquitous methods.”
- Phil Archer, Director, Web Solutions, GS1 Global Office
GS1 Digital Link is bringing change to all GS1 identifiers, not only the most popular one contained in the barcode (GTIN), and connects them with the web. A carefully structured URL can contain one or more GS1 identifiers, depending on what defines the uniqueness of a particular product; it could be a certain vintage in case of wine, a production batch in case of rail parts, or a single product identifier for an artwork or a diamond. Regardless of the number of identifiers needed to reach the required granularity, they can all be included in a single standardized URL that can in turn be added to the product using any of the appropriate data carriers like 2D codes (QR code or Data Matrix), RFID tags or NFCs.
As GS1 Digital Link turns these globally adopted identifiers into a web address, it allows for a very flexible way to interact with such a code. Using a customizable ‘resolver’, brands can direct different scans of the same identifiers to the most appropriate final destination. For example, a product can have a single QR code on the packaging, but a scan with a “warehouse application” will lead to an entirely different end URL compared to a scan with a “consumer application”. Furthermore, it allows for real-time adjustments for various situations, like in the case of a recall, where those endpoints can be appropriately amended to warn anyone interacting with a product not to consume it.
GS1 Digital Link, therefore, brings ubiquitous GS1 identifiers to the digital world and offers brand owners the unprecedented flexibility of having a single code on the product but delivering different experiences to different stakeholders.
The GS1 Digital Link Standard and OriginTrail: Providing Access to the Right Information in the Right Context
Those of you that follow OriginTrail more closely have surely already picked up on some of the commonalities in the approaches of GS1 Digital Link and OriginTrail. Utilizing the same GS1 identifiers, OriginTrail’s Decentralized Knowledge Graph (DKG) can be regarded as a trusted, semantic data repository extension to the GS1 Digital Link. A resolver that conforms to the GS1 standard enables access to multiple service endpoints — services that are not necessarily interoperable and semantic in nature — the OriginTrail Decentralized Network (ODN) acts as an interoperability layer that provides a unified view of the structured linked data connected via the DKG.
A use case for such an extension would be a consumer scanning the GS1 Digital Link code on a product and accessing an interface showing traceability information that was previously published on the ODN. We can extend this use case to include searching for product data across supply chain partners. The ODN performs that search automatically using GS1 Digital Link identifiers within its knowledge graph, harnessing its verifiable semantic linked data structure and abstracting the complexities of originating systems. This applies to both public and permissioned data referenced in the DKG’s subgraphs. (Permissioned data is only shared amongst partners.)
GS1 Digital Link will bring product identifiers into the digital world and OriginTrail enables GS1 Digital Link URLs to be an entry point to trusted product data for all stakeholders, businesses, and consumers. How data owners can precisely define who can access their data using OriginTrail has been previously covered here.
The first showcases of the compatible use of the GS1 Digital Link concept and ODN were completed with the London-based company EVRYTHNG and their Barry the Bear. This was followed by the deployment of Avery Dennison tags on fashion products by the 1017 ALYX 9SM designer brand.
The latest developments have facilitated a prototype using GS1’s own production-ready resolver and ODN to provide extensive information concerning Perutnina Ptuj’s poultry products. In the prototype implementation, GS1 Digital Link URLs were created for products of Perutnina Ptuj, combining multiple GS1 identifiers (GTIN and LOT number).
The GS1 Digital Link prototype implementation for Perutnina Ptuj provides access to three different services: the product information page (gs1:pip link type), product traceability information (gs1:traceability link type), and the data verification service (on the ODN explorer) (gs1:certificationInfo link type). All the relevant links can be observed directly via the global GS1 resolver here and specific applications would access the appropriate service by attaching the appropriate link type in the query string of the GS1 DL URI.
The GS1 DL code is available here:
Depending on the context of the scan (e.g. via the mobile phone by a consumer or by employees’ warehouse scanning devices), the same code will be used together with the relevant link type to direct the user to the appropriate resource, which will be the OriginTrail Explorer, the product information page, or the traceability consumer application. Particular user journeys of the traceability application and the OT explorer benefit from direct access to relevant product data by eliminating the need for interacting with multiple input fields for GTIN and LOT, as both are already contained within the GS1 Digital Link code.
Building on real-time adjustments of the GS1 Digital Link, Perutnina Ptuj will be able to change the endpoints dynamically — e.g. direct the consumer to a promotional activity page rather than traceability information. Furthermore, they will be able to add additional context by creating user journeys for more stakeholders — farmers, supply chain partners, retailers — all of them using the same code to interact with a product but each getting tailored access to trusted data.
Trace Labs — Core Developers of OriginTrail have been active in exploring and building technologies for data portability, self-sovereign identity (SSI), trusted data marketplaces, and verifiable credentials in order to allow for trust and value to move with data. By bridging the physical with digital, the GS1 Digital Link will play a pivotal role in catalyzing the adoption of these novel components and provide tailored, context-based access to the decentralized knowledge graph.
As the world transitions to the GS1 Digital Link standard, the “new kind of beep” after a machine at the warehouse, point of sale, or even your own smart fridge scans your favorite product (food as an example), will bring greater consumer focus (by immediately linking dietary needs, weekly menus, discounts offered by your favorite online store, and more), vastly improved supply chain visibility (single product attribute capable to build a context around an item in a supply chain), and greater product safety.
The possibilities are endless and we look forward to seeing the global community bringing the GS1 Digital Link Standard to the forefront of supply chains.
About GS1 and GS1 Slovenia
GS1 is a neutral, not-for-profit organization that develops and maintains the most widely used global standards for business communication. The best known of these standards is the barcode, a symbol printed on products that can be scanned electronically. GS1 barcodes, named by the BBC as one of “the 50 things that made the world economy,” are scanned more than 5 billion times every day.
GS1 standards improve the efficiency, safety, and visibility of supply chains across physical and digital channels in 25 sectors. They form a global business language that identifies, captures, and shares key information about products, locations, assets, and more. GS1 has 115 local member organizations, including GS1 Slovenija, and 1.5 million user companies.
About Perutnina Ptuj
Perutnina Ptuj is the most important specialized meat processing corporation in Southeastern Europe. Perutnina Ptuj Group is an international group of companies with a long tradition. Their basic purpose is to prepare natural, healthy, and tasty food. They set themselves the highest standards regarding quality, traceability, safety, and ecology. All production processes start, take place, and are completed in Slovenia. The process of ensuring traceability leads us from the final product all the way back to the raw products used. Perutnina Ptuj is one of the few food systems that produce foodstuffs with the use of production chains, which allow for control in all stages of production. They carry out more than 500 laboratory analyses daily. Continuous control over their own veterinary clinic and permanent state veterinary inspections guarantee the integrity and safety of all products. Their high-quality standards open the door to demanding customers in Europe and world-wide, where Perutnina Ptuj has, thanks to long-term business relationships, gained the status of the most wanted and reliable supplier of products in more than 20 different countries in the world.
You can follow the origin of Perutnina Ptuj products using this online app, powered by the OriginTrail Decentralized Network and developed by Trace Labs.
For more information about the Perutnina Ptuj Group, please visit: https://www.perutnina.si/en/home/.
About Trace Labs — Core Developers of OriginTrail
Trace Labs is a blockchain company developing enterprise solutions for trusted data exchange across the supply chain. Their solutions enable forward-thinking organizations to gain knowledge and make better decisions based on interconnected data from their supply chains. Trace Labs is also the core development company of the open-source OriginTrail protocol for blockchain-based data exchange. Founded in 2013, Trace Labs has built award-winning enterprise solutions for supply chains, including those for traceability and verifiable claims. In 2017, Trace Labs received an award from the Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center. Trace Labs believes sustainable supply chains are only possible when all organizations, big or small, are allowed to benefit from trusted data exchanges.