QR Codes 101: Make Links to Your Website from Anywhere

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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.):

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