Thursday, April 08, 2010

Got The Code?

This is called a QR, or "Quick Response" barcode, one of many kinds of what are called '2D' barcodes. The UPC barcode, ubiquitous in our society as a pricing and inventory tool, is known as a '1D' code.

The code above can contain up to 250 characters of text. This can be contact information, a URL for a website, or a simple text message. It can be a lot smaller than this one, too.

What's the big deal? Not much, unless you are one of the growing numbers of people who own a smartphone, like the iPhone, Motorola Droid, Palm Pre, Blackberry, etc. In places like Japan, where smartphones with cameras and built-in reader software are everywhere, these codes are embedded into print media, electronic signs, business cards, and even serve as tattoos.

If you have one of these phones and have downloaded a reader, you can test your new toy on the code above. It has an important message.

As more people in this country embrace smart phone technology, expect these codes to form a connection between printed media and associated content on the Web. Recent stories in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailed how the paper will use QR codes to allow smartphone users to go directly to Internet-based content related to the particular story without having to type a lengthy URL.

The codes are also gaining a foothold in advertising. Ralph Lauren has used them rather creatively in linking shoppers to their website for online ordering via smartphone. There are myriad other applications, i.e. real estate brokers putting the codes on ads and flyers for a specific home, linking prospective buyers to more robust web-based information.

How about a code on the price sticker at a used car lot, linking the customer with the vehicle's Carfax report? Or a QR code on a fledgling band's concert poster, linking you to a music or video sample from their MySpace page? QR codes apparently made a big splash (though considered by many a thud) at last month's SXSW events in Austin, Texas.

To try and get a better sense of the mass media take on the potential of barcoded content, I asked our local newspaper editors about this trend, and how it may affect their future operations. I got a thoughtful response from Daily Sentinel Managing Editor Laurena Mayne Davis, who said in part:
From a media standpoint, I appreciate QRs' utility in navigational ease. They don't add content, of course, which is our emphasis, but would eliminate the typing of "" in our case, for example. People want ease in navigation — Google's success underscores that. Who bothers with looking up URLs anymore? You just Google...People also like increased connectivity. Pointing readers to related content is something we do narratively in print, now. A QR would eliminate that need.
Ms. Davis also clued me in to a barcode-based web service called Stickybits, which uses 1D barcodes to link to all manner of web content that they host for registered users. The user attaches the barcode to whatever they'd like. Their mobile app is only available for iPhone and Android-based phones, however.

There are endless applications, but there are steps needed to get the ball rolling here. First, downloading a QR code reader to your smartphone is pretty easy. Even with my sometimes cumbersome Nokia phone, I was able to download a couple of good barcode readers via some of the sites listed below. Next is finding a way to actually create codes, and there are some great online resources to do that as well.

QR Code Generators and Readers:


Kaywa - Includes a link to a reader

QR Stuff - Includes a link to a reader

SnapMaze - This one allows you to generate codes in color - has a link to a reader too. - Lists several QR Code readers.

My son, who has an iPhone and enjoys technology (but not hardly as much as I do), was decidedly underwhelmed about this. He thought it was interesting, but couldn't see the practical future applications as yet. I'm betting that he'll be around to see these things proliferate even beyond what the architects of our global wireless architecture are betting on.

Have a great day.

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