QR codes have great potential – but what the hell for?

Do you ever get that annoying, aggravating feeling when you look at something and you know that there is some huge potential there but you just cannot put your finger on it? It’s happening to me at the moment and that Eureka Moment, that Road to Damascus blinding flash of light hasn’t illuminated my entire being.

The source of my irritation is QR codes which I had never come across until I bought my HTC Desire Android phone and discovered websites and magazines were using them to enable readers to download software. Using a bar code reader available in almost all smartphones, you scan the code which contains the links to where you can download the software and slurp it down to your phone. But there has to be more to it than that!

QR codes have been around since the 1990s when they were developed by a part of the Toyota group for tracking parts in car manufacturing. Since then it has been used in marketing and even artwork.

The QR code at the top of the page contains the URL for this web site but that is a fairly simplistic use for the service. A QR code can contain up to just over 7000 characters and almost 4300 numbers so while you cannot rewrite War and Peace using QR codes it has the potential for small text-based items like lists, messaging etc.

The QR code to the left contains a 700+ word article that I wrote and you can see the difference in the structure and the content of the code and I’ll be perfectly honest and say that I could not hold the phone scanner still long enough for it to register the data. From this it is obvious that any potential has to have limited wordage that can be easily scanned by someone without getting the shakes or RSI!

The sort of data that one online QR creator can accept includes: Text , Website URL, Telephone Number, SMS Message, Email Address, Email Message. Contact Details (VCARD), Event (VCALENDAR). Google Maps Location, Wifi Login (Android Only), Paypal Buy Now Link, Social Media, iTunes Link, YouTube Video.

So the latest possibilities are obviously there, the trick is to try and work out how best to use and capitalise on them.

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Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.