You have seen them and maybe wondered what they are. It is a square-shaped image with a matrix of black and white squares. You know it means something, but you aren’t sure for certain. They may be part of an advertisement or a sign, or all by themselves. Whatever they are, they are showing up more and more.
These squares are called QR codes. Breaking down the name, QR stands for “quick response” and the code stands for it being a two-dimensional barcode, or 2D barcode for short. 2D means you can hold much more information than a standard barcode, which is typically linear, or 1D. Upon scanning a QR code, the information stored in the barcode is given to the scanning device and can be processed or managed from there.
The popularity of QR codes comes from its origins, ease of creation and use. The QR code standard was created by a Japanese company, Denso-Wave, and is an open standard in that, though patented technology, its creator is not exercising its patent rights. QR codes have been extremely popular in Japan and throughout Asia and Europe, and are making their way across the US.
A QR code can store a variety of information, including a Web site link, contact information or a text message. They can be created using barcode generation software or on a number of Web sites which offer the service, some for free. Scanning of QR codes is commonly done by mobile devices and smartphones which have QR code scanning apps already installed or available for installation. The app will process the message and act on it, whether it is opening a mobile browser, processing contact information or displaying a message.
To illustrate the ease and power of QR codes, here is a real-life example of a QR code in action. The accompanying photo is of an advertisement on a Chicago subway car from several months back. The QR code, when scanned, will open a browser on the mobile device to a Web site for a book publisher. If this was done before the expiration date listed on the ad, they could take advantage of the offer. The QR code is still valid as of the writing of this article.
In this example, an offer was presented in print form in the offline world, and by scanning the QR code, the connection was made online. QR codes can be displayed in print ads as this one, or on signs, windows, newspapers, and even billboards as was recently done in New York City. A QR code can open a mobile-formatted Web site rather than just a standard-formatted Web site. The Web link in the QR code can be to a short Web link, similar to ones generated by services like TinyURL or BitLy, and thus the full Web link behind the short one can be changed, all the while the QR code remaining the same.
Through pure exposure and education, QR code utilization will rise as in other parts of the world, and by uniting the offline and online world, will provide better and more seamless access to information.