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QR codes – what, how and why

June 24, 2011

What are they?

A QR code is an image that can be decoded into text. It’s a cousin of a barcode, but instead of lines it’s composed of a matrix of  squares. QR stands for quick response — the codes are compact and designed to be read quickly. Originally created for tracking parts in a factory, QR codes are now a popular marketing gimmick. They are also finding their way into other areas, like schools.

The codes can translate into a website address (like mine here), contact information, latitude & longitude, product specs, clues for a game, an article citation, coupons – any kind of text. You may see them in a store, museum, conference venue, bus, restaurant, library, airport — even on a college campus. QR codes are popular in Japan and a few other countries, but in the United States relatively few people know what the codes are and how to use them.

How do they work?

  • Party 1 makes the image and shows it off
    • Encode – one of the most tools is Kaywa, a free website. There is also desktop software for this purpose.
    • Display
      • Paper – textbook, handout, poster, magazine, flyer, business card …
      • Imprinted – t-shirt, mug, pin, product label …
      • Electronic – TV screen, computer monitor, video wall, billboard …
  • Party 2 grabs the image and deciphers it
    • Capture – this is most easily done with an app on a phone or tablet, but you can also grab the code on a camera and feed it to some software.
    • Decode – using software on your phone or computer. A popular app for Android and iPhone is RedLaser. Also check out Google Goggles. I tried QReader, a free app for Mac/Windows/Linux and was able to decode most images.

Why would I use them?

The main advantage is that QR codes allow people to receive accurate information (up to 2953 characters) without having to type, thus saving time and avoiding errors. If the code reveals a web address, the app typically lets you tap it and go right there. If you are receiving contact info in the form of a vCard, you may be able to pop it directly into your address book. Below are additional specific examples, followed by a video that shows QR codes “in the wild.”

  1. Conference presentation – a coded email address lets attendees quickly request information. See also ProfHacker – How to Use Barcodes at Conferences (and Why You Might Want To)
  2. Event poster – a code provides dates, times, and ticket information
  3. Museum game – use Aris to help players follow coded clues from one art work to another
  4. More – 101 Uses For Quick Response (QR) Codes
2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2013 7:08 am

    Hey thanks.. for sharing this type of information. could i use in the website? Is this tool for free..! please share more stuff thanks..

  2. June 26, 2011 3:18 am

    You really made my day,last night I had an argument with my friend about this,and thanks to you now I have some good points about QR codes.Thanks again mate….

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