What’s that funky little square thingamajiggy?

It’s called a QR (Quick Response) Code and you’re going to start seeing them pop up everywhere from magazines to envelopes to business cards, signs, museums, and computer screens.  It’s the bar code’s hippy brother. Unfortunately, it won’t mean much to you unless you have something to scan it with and for the average everyday Joe that means you need a smartphone with a camera and QR code-scanning software.

Get some of that stuff and you’re off and running to scan every QR Code in sight.  Here’s what you might get in return: a simple text display, contact information you may then be able to transfer to your contacts in your phone, connection to a wireless network, or – and here’s the general result – connection to a URL where you can then visit a website to view information, buy a product or get shown any number of sales or marketing pitches.  Here’s one article on How QR Codes Can Grow Your Business that might explain why companies use QR Codes.

If you have a smartphone and want to try scanning a code, you’ll probably have to download some scanning software, so check your phone’s application store. My Blackberry has a built in app for QR Codes that resides in its Blackberry Messaging application.  Most scanning apps are free, but keep in mind, it matters how good a camera you have in your phone as well. Also, scanning in low light really affects your chances of the scan working at all. Best to do it in good light and on a flat surface.  You can even try scanning a QR Code on your computers screen – I have had relatively good success doing just that.

Best of all, if you want to create a QR Code for your own marketing purposes, they’re are many free sites on the web to do so. The one I used to create a link to my Training & Documentation site was very easy to use.  Try it here.  Where to put these little buggers once you’ve created them?  I’ve put them on bookmarks we hand out to faculty, I’ve put them on documentation for students, and I’ve even put them in my status box on Facebook. I guess the only way you’re going to see if they work is if you plaster them in all the feasible places.  While not an original idea, you can even make a t-shirt with a QR Code on it although I don’t know how many people I would want coming up and pointing their phones at my shirt as I’m walking around town.

As someone working in the IT area of a college, it should be noted that many students these days do seem to love their smartphones! A survey of your students in this regard might be worthwhile.

The big downside I’ve noticed for using my Blackberry and QR Codes is that I rarely use my phone’s crummy web browser and tiny screen to read stuff on the internet in the first place. Why would I want to take the trouble to scan something and then have to use a magnifying glass to read it?  Of course, Androids and iPhones have better capabilities in these areas and so perhaps its yet another pleasant experience depending on the type of smartphone you have. A museum in Sydney was using QR Codes and came up with a few problems along the way.  More and more studies are being done on the success rate of QR Codes and these may determine the rise or fall of future QR Code usage.

That said, QR Codes seem to be gaining in popularity right now and whether or not they’re a fad remains to be seen.

Update: 11/16/11 JC Penney wants in on the QR Code action.  Bet you’ll see more of this down the line. Sounds like a good holiday twist.

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