A few weeks ago a friend had posted a graphic of a QR code on Facebook that when scanned by a smartphone took me to a BBC news item online.
The BBC news item reported that a funeral director in Dorset, the UK, was offering interactive gravestones that would provide information about the buried person. I was immediately transported to my school days when an enthusiastic history teacher had taken us to the local cemetery to learn about the history, attitudes, cultural traits and livelihoods of people from the gravestones there. Information embedded in the headstones by a QR Code, which can be scanned and read via your smartphone or tablet, seems like an interesting idea.
The QR code (quick response code) looks as though it has been lifted straight from a Eric Von Dannikan book, or is a cross between Buddhist symbols and Hindu yantras. It is a two dimensional bar code in which an alphanumeric text or a URL is embedded that will take users to a website or video where they can learn more about the person, object or place. It carries much more information than a normal bar code and apart from URL links, contains geo coordinates and text.
Smartphones can read QR codes using decoding software such as the Neo Reader app. There are a number of apps, free as well as paid, available in the Android market and the Apple App Store that can read QR code. You just have to download them.
Also, unlike a bar code, QR codes are very easy to generate. A number of websites exist that teach you to instantly create a QR Code. Kaywa is great and you could use GOQR.me or, if you are interested in a colourful QR code, use Microsoft tag. The Red Laser Generator in the iPhone helps to create a QR code. You can also try QR Droid or the QR Generator.
The QR code was originally invented by Toyota in 1994 to track automobiles through various stages of manufacture. But because of its potential, it began to be used by marketers to advertise their products. The idea was to create more interactive advertising. Since QR codes are small in size, they can be integrated in newspaper advertisements, magazines or clothing. They are even found on product labels, billboards and buildings. But there seems to be a problem.
Many marketers do not use QR codes to their full potential. The QR Code of the Muthoot Group that I decoded on my cell phone took me to the website of the company but I could not navigate to the information I wanted, so it wasn’t very effective. However, a rather attractive video played when I decoded the QR code for Lavasa.
Most marketers work much harder on the design of their QR codes than on its functionality. They have to go beyond leading the consumer to their website and start providing an audio-visual clip of the product they are advertising.
As for the consumers, most people I spoke to had not even heard of the QR code. When I showed them the code and asked them if they would decode them if they came across them, they replied that they would if only to whet their curiosity.
Ever since the Royal Dutch Mint issued a coin with QR code to commemorate its centenary, there has been a renewed interest in QR codes. A town keen on promoting tourism can use QR codes to give a short history of the town or its flora and fauna. Governments may use it to store data about individuals in their Unique Identity Cards. In the US, airlines send a QR code if you book tickets online. This can be used to travel and you don’t need a paper ticket or a printout. The airline officials simply scan the code on the traveller’s phone.
However, be choosy about which QR codes you scan. A wrong choice can lead you lead you to a malicious site. Apart from that, QR codes are a technology that can be fruitfully utilised. It should be utilised quickly before it becomes history in the fast-changing world of technology.
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