During the past 2-3 years, I’ve noticed Quick Response (QR) Codes popping up everywhere – in newspapers, magazines and other printed advertising. They are small black and white squares that look like they pieces of abstract art, and seem to have nothing to do with the article or advertisement. They are actually machine-readable messages designed to be scanned by your smartphone’s camera. After launching a QR Reader app, position your phone in front of this design, align the image in the viewfinder, and wait for the phone to read it. The data contained in the QR Code is typically a web site address, which will give you more information about whatever your’re reading.
I usually ignore QR Codes, and I’ll bet that you do as well. QR Code advocates seem to forget that not everybody has a smartphone, and even fewer people want to take the time pull out their phone, turn it on, and launch the QR Code Reader app just to read something that should be on a sign or magazine page in the first place.
Recently, my brother shared the following diagram on Facebook, and in principle, I agree with the sentiment.
QR codes are becoming more popular, but I don’t understand why. They seem to appeal only to marketers, social media fanatics, and to people who love technology for its own sake and not because it offers a superior way of communicating.
Do any of you remember the CueCat? It debuted in 1999, and was the first attempt to merge print advertising with computer hardware. CueCat was a portable (but wired) bar code scanner that attached to your PC. Participating companies would place a special bar code at the bottom of their magazine ads, and if you wanted to find out more information about a product, then you would simply use your CueCat to scan the code instead of typing in the web site address. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it never caught on.
QR Codes are an improvement on this idea – they don’t require a separate scanner that needs to be physically attached to a PC – but I still don’t see how they are solving a problem. The most baffling area in which QR Codes are used is real estate. Take a look at this advertisement:
If I’m browsing the real estate section of my local newspaper, I want the pertinent information to be right in front of me. I’m not going to position my phone’s camera over the QR Code, scan it and then read the information on my phone’s tiny screen – and then repeat these steps for each listing. Furthermore, this all requires data – not everyone who has a smartphone can also has a data plan, and if you’re not in a WiFi zone, you may not be able to retrieve this information at all. Finally, depending on your data plan, this newspaper browsing may cost you money. I just don’t see any upside to QR Codes in magazine or newspaper advertising. If you have something to say, then use the page to say it, or buy more ad space.
Now let me give you an example of a useful application of QR Codes. Consider the following scenario:
- I attended my high school reunion last year. While most alumni wore name tags, there are still some people who didn’t. Perhaps they felt that they had such a high profile back in high school that they don’t need a name tag. Or, they may feel that they haven’t aged in the thirty years since graduation. Unfortunately, as the decades pass, memories fade, appearances change, girth increases and hair disappears. Despite what you may think of yourself, don’t count on people recognizing you immediately.
- I was at a Toastmasters event recently, and while most people wear their Toastmasters name badges, a few people didn’t. Once lady (who wasn’t wearing her name tag) approached me and asked if I remembered her. Unfortunately, I’m not someone who can memorize names or faces instantly, so I had to admit that I was at a disadvantage. As it turns out, I had met her very briefly (along with about fifteen other people) at a Toastmasters club launch party about two months earlier.
For those of us who don’t have an Eidetic memory, wouldn’t it be nice if you could recall everyone’s name, and perhaps some additional information about them? One way to accomplish this is by sewing QR Code tags onto clothing. Admittedly, this isn’t anything new – it’s already been done by this fashion designer. However, her QR Code simply links to her Twitter account, so that those people who scan her outfit can read what she’s tweeted. Of course, if they are close enough to scan her clothing, then they can just strike up a conversation with her – maybe I’m just old-fashioned.
My QR Code idea goes beyond a simple Twitter link, and solves both the high school reunion and Toastmasters event situations. Here’s how it works:
- Buy a QR Code patch and have it sewn onto your clothing, preferably on the sides of your shoulders or on the back, so that people can scan you discreetly.
- Create an account on our proprietary QR database (a one-year subscription will be included in the purchase price of the QR patch).
- Enter whatever personal information you like into our database.
- Enter your privacy settings. For example: before a high school reunion, you would make the following information visible: first name, last name, maiden name, and graduating year. If you were going out to a club, then your would make only the following fields readable: relationship status, astrological sign, and a list of qualities that you’re looking for in a potential partner.
If you see someone who isn’t wearing their name tag at a high school reunion, or at social event, you can now discreetly scan the QR code on their clothing, and see whatever information they’ve entered into the database. Armed with this knowledge, you may now make now approach that person confidently.
QR Codes can be used in other social situations, such as trade shows or conferences (credit goes to my brother for this idea):
- Before a conference, the organizer populates a database with information from the vendor and visitor registration forms.
- All vendors and visitors are issued personalized QR codes to paste onto their sleeves or jackets, as well as the URL of a QR reader app.
- While wandering around the convention, you can scan the other attendees and identify the most promising networking contacts, without having to spend your valuable time listening to a long-winded, overly-rehearsed sales pitch.
Finally, QR Codes can make mate selection (via speed dating, clubbing or any other singles-oriented event) more efficient. Why spend your time and money buying people drinks and making conversation, when you could just scan your potential love interest? Consider the following hypothetical outcomes:
Scenario A: “OMG – you like rebuilding transmissions, watching reruns of The Brady Bunch, and collecting Star Wars figurines! I can’t even begin to describe your awesomeness – where have you been all my life?”
Scenario B: “Hi, name name is _______. I’m pleased to meet you! [glance quickly at some additional QR details] What’s this? [audible gasp] You think that the toilet paper should go ‘under’ instead of ‘over’? [deep sigh] I’m sorry. but this is a complete game-changer; I’m afraid that you and I are just not going to get along. Phew – I’m so glad that I discovered this now, before we became romantically involved and decided to cohabitate! Best of luck to you!”.