Gum in the Library

Gum is an iOS app that allows people to have conversations around actual physical things. With the app, a user can scan the barcode of any object and make a comment on it. It is like Reddit in that users can upvote or downvote any comment. The tagline given to it on Product Hunt was “the social network of things.” The app allows users to provide any username that can be changed. I was very excited by the potential of this seemingly simple idea when I first tried out the app.
I scanned my coffee and commented on it. I scanned soup cans and commented on them. I scanned and commented on everything I saw. I scanned my favorite books and added quotes and comments and glowing reviews. I imagined being able to scan items in the store to read reviews about them. Like I said, I got excited.

I knew that I could use any number of online barcode generators to create my own and attach them to assignments. I quickly thought about our school library and how each book is assigned a barcode by the district. This meant that while I used the official barcode from the publisher to comment to the entire world (potentially), my students could recommend or comment with the school barcode. Other students in the district could scan and view the comments from their peers.

I took this idea to our school librarian, and she was interested in trying out the app with the school book club. Students had been reading The Fault in Our Stars and were meeting to discuss it. How awesome is John Green by the way? Did you see that they’re making a movie for Looking for Alaska too? Sweet! Anyway, some students chose to write recommendations to others, and others added their favorite quotes. This is an incredibly simple way to integrate technology into our library, but the social aspect makes it incredibly powerful. If every student turning a book in to the library would leave a comment or recommendation, we would quickly have thoughts shared around every book. This would make this new augmented layer of social reading become even more powerful.


In the online learning lab, I tried out Gum by adding some barcodes that I created to student Algebra assignments to see what students would do with it. They collaborated by posting the answers to sets of systems and expressed their strong feelings about spending their valuable time solving the equations. It didn’t go very well. I do believe that it could be very helpful to students and be an effective backchannel tool for them if they were given more direction or specific tasks to accomplish.


Today, a few students were reviewing different forms of poetry. For fun, I had a small group of students write haikus about Cheetos. Cheetos are by far the most popular food item on the campus, and the vending machine outside my classroom door has difficulty keeping them stocked. I had the students submit the haiku poems via a Google form, and I added the poems with the Gum app to the barcode for the Cheetos bag. This was fun and silly, but it allowed the student work to be shared with the world. Those with iOS devices downloaded the app so they could go upvote their poems. You can see how Gum works by downloading the app, scanning the Cheetos barcode below, and upvoting a student haiku. You can also just scan one of my favorite books to see my reviews.

I feel like this simple app has many powerful implications for the library and in the classroom. I remember StickyBits and how I wished that it would become more popular. Well, now I hope that the popularity of Gum will surge in the coming months. At least in the library.
I wanted to wait a bit longer to publish this as the folks at Gum will be releasing a big update and adding new features, but I figured that if I go ahead and do so, maybe the update will be available sooner. Follow @justgumit on Twitter to hear as soon as the update is out.