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Summary:

If you’re still wondering what those funny black-and-white squares are, here’s an introduction. QR codes are an increasingly-popular way of converting data like website addresses into a form that can be scanned. Thus, users can go to a website without having to type in the address.

qrcode-collaboration

We’ve talked about QR codes before, and Aliza thinks they’re a trend to watch in 2011 — check out her post that’ll be published here tomorrow. But if you’re still wondering what those funny black-and-white squares are, and what they’re for, here’s a quick introduction.

QR codes are an increasingly-popular way of converting data like website addresses into a form that can be easily scanned. Thus, it’s possible to publish a website address in print, and readers can go to that address without having to type in the address.

For example, users can have the camera on their phones scan a QR code from a print ad, a business card, or a computer screen. Once scanned, the scanner software on the phone will read the data and ask the user what to do — most likely, open the website address embedded in the code.

Technically, QR codes are a specific type of 2D barcode. QR codes are more recent descendants of the UPC codes on your groceries, and the ISBN number codes on your books.

QR codes generally include the same information that a web link does. This web link and the QR code on this page both go to the same URL: http://gigaom.com/collaboration. But the code makes it easy to transfer the link from one machine to another, and even one medium to another, in just a second.

Almost every smartphone has a camera, and there are many QR code reader apps for all of the major platforms. You can generate your own QR codes at Google, at bit.ly, at Jumpscan, and many other sites.

So how can you use QR codes?

To transfer contact information. Darrell has described how QR codes can be used on business cards, and Aliza has noted that QR codes are showing up on name badges at conferences. It’s possible that transferring info this way will become more popular than apps like Bump. (As an experiment, I’ve turned my Facebook profile picture into an QR code, but none of my friends has commented or asked about it yet. I guess they know I’m a techie!)

To drive traffic to special offers. Google is providing cards with QR codes that can be placed in the window or on the counter of a business. The codes on these cards lead to the Google Places page for that business. Google recommends using the codes so that people can find offers from your business, although if they’re already on site, why not display such offers more directly?

To drive traffic to websites from display ads. What’s more likely, I think, is that we’ll begin to see QR codes in print ads, billboards, and possibly on television. New York City has already placed a giant QR code on a display ad in Times Square.

Developers of Android software are using QR codes extensively. Since it’s often easier for phone users to scan a code than to type in a long website address, you’ll often see QR codes on websites for mobile apps. I’m sure that we’ll see new and creative uses for QR codes in the near future.

Do you use QR codes in your work? What’s the most intriguing use you’ve seen for the codes?

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):

  1. I’ve setup my blog so that there are Secret Print only QR Codes. This is nice because then you don’t have to have an ungaily QR Code on the page for people just browsing through.

    Directions at: http://www.buzzwordcompliant.net/2010/12/19/how-to-add-a-secret-print-only-qr-code-to-your-blog-posts/

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  2. QR codes seem utterly pointless to me… and I’m certainly a early adopter tech geek, I just don’t see them ever catching on for the average person.

    Just for fun I whipped out my iPhone and took a photo of the QR code on the screen above… all told it took about a minute and a half to get to the web page. (pull out iPhone, find already installed QR app, focus camera on screen, take photo, wait, wait, page finally loads).

    I could have EASILY typed the address on my iPhone in less than half the time.

    Customizable URL shorteners further make QR codes pointless… QR codes died the day cell phones got keyboards.

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  3. Hi Charles,
    when Kaywa brought QR Codes to the west in 2006, we knew it would need time and interesting and inspiring projects and use cases so that people would start to adopt these funny pixel squares. And now it is happening! So great!!!
    In 2009 we did a project for ISMAR and this came back to me when reading your article. Check the info at http://dokodare.kaywa.com/event/ismar09/

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  4. I use one QR code in two places:

    The first is that I have a QR code on my business card. The code points to a script that transforms the landing page of my personal website into a downloadable vCard.

    The second is that I have the same QR code as part of the custom skin that I use on my mobile (via SkinIt), and usually ends up also causing all types of neat conversations.

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    1. Charles Hamilton Tuesday, January 4, 2011

      ARJ, I really like the idea of attaching a QR code to a vCard. I’ll have to try that myself.

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  5. I’m a supplier in the promotional products and print industry, and the use of QR codes has just skyrocketed over the last year. One of our main product lines is making name badges and event passes, and it’s become very common to place QR codes on the badges. From a schedule of events to an actual contact code, they’re used pretty often. I would disagree with jb510 in that these codes do save time and effort and will be mainstream within the next few years. Scanning movie posters outside the theater to automatically watch trailers, to price comparisons on products in stores, the surface of using QR codes has only been scratched. The more penetration smart phones have in the market, the larger the use will be. Great intro article.

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  6. QR Codes are making inroads that show they have a life outside tech, in the real world:

    QR Codes Hit The Street
    http://mikecanex.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/qr-codes-hit-the-street/

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  7. I like the post. I will be sure to pass it along. I really like the use of QR codes. I think more people are making them vs. the number of people actually using them. I hope that changes.

    I did a similar post last year: http://www.hallme.com/blog/what-is-a-qr-code/ and I think the wildest thing I stumbled upon in my research was people getting QR codes as tattoos!

    Thanks again!

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  8. jb510 – The issue is not with QR code technology, it is the iPhone. The iPhone has a horrible camera when it comes to up close pictures. That is unfortunate because the iPhone is so popular and it ends up giving QR codes and other similar technologies a bad rap. Of course I cannot honestly say the solution is to get a new phone, but if you were to have tried it say on the Android or another phone with a better camera, you would find it is very fast and there is no way one could type in a web address faster than the reader can pick it up and redirect you. Plus, qr codes is not just for urls. You can import contact info, visit a map location, join a wifi network, and quite a bit more. I think it is a technology that is useful – when applied correctly.

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  9. Just launched http://www.SocialQRCode.com
    First ever QR Code Generator for social media and social sharing for businesses!
    Please give it a try!

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  10. YouScan.me just launched with the effort to connect online and offline worlds through QR Codes. QR barcodes, or quck response codes, are an unique variety of barcode that can be read by mobile phones and include as much as 100 occasions the quantity of details than a regular barcode does. YouScan.me gives consumers the ability to modernize their business and interact with customers. We leave to you the decision what details you would like to incorporate into your QR code – from web site URLs, Facebook Fan and Places pages, Twitter profiles, Videos, Venue check-ins or eBay Items for sale – all this in one code.

    You can find more information on our Help page http://youscan.me/help/.

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