Thursday, May 3, 2012

Positive Uses for QR Codes

I have been a little busy with my new job this week, so in lieu of any gritty technical content, I want to take the time to give you some food for thought and petition your to really chew on it for awhile.

QR Codes are two dimensional bar codes that allow you to quickly capture significant amounts of data only using the camera on your phone or MP3 player.  Unlike traditional linear bar codes, which usually only have a single checksum digit to verify a good read, QR codes have a significant level (20-70%) of error-correction-coding.  This means it is surprisingly easy to "read" a QR code given most people's expectations based on UPCs.

Once you learn the distinctive three large and one or more small bulls-eyes of QR codes, you will start noticing them everywhere.  They're one of those little things that have crept into modern life without most people even knowing what they are.

Now notice where you see them.  Exclusively on advertisements.  Seriously?  There are a ton of interesting ways that you could apply these, and the best we can come up with is an easier way for advertisers to push stuff on us?

I am the only person I know of who uses QR codes in a meaningful, constructive manner; Wifi.  Every time you show up at a friend's house for the first time, you have to sit them down and start interrogating them about how to get onto the Internet (I don't have an addition, honest).  In my apartment, I have a piece of paper that very clearly says "WIFI - SSID: Finnegan" and has a QR code of the wifi key, so newcomers just need to point their phone at the wall, and Internet.  Super easy, super simple, everyone who has come over and asked what it is thinks it's really clever, and it is totally useless.* 

No one installs QR readers, because no one really wants to take the time to decode advertisements.

Think about how else you could use these.  What games could you build that used these to quickly transfer data between people's phones?  What systems could you make more convenient with these?

How do we use these things in an awesome way that actually makes people want to even know what they are?  Advertisements aren't it.

Food for thought.  Think about it. 

* - I argue that it is still perfectly secure as long as you post these Wifi QR codes deliberately.  I wouldn't post them facing out on my windows, but put someplace discrete, physical access is a prerequisite, and by then your WiFi key really doesn't matter.  And yes, I appreciate the irony that I just said I wouldn't post these facing out my window, but just posted a picture of one on the Internet. Consider why that is.


  1. I agree. Being able to contain a decent little chunk of information in such a way can be extremely useful. I don't know why decoding isn't native on today's smartphones. I think that we have to install 3rd party apps is the biggest reason they aren't in wider use. Advertising is often cheesy and narcissistic, but sometimes it can even be useful there (ex: product specs ).

  2. Microsoft has their own incompatible QR code system:

    I don't know anyone but my employer (sadly enough) who uses the MS version though.

    I agree with Adam's post-- it would have more use if it was built into the phone API.

    1. Boy that's going to be awkward when Microsoft eventually shuts down their Tag ID resolvers...