Why I was Wrong about QR Codes

by

As QR codes continue to pop up on everything from billboards, to posters, and even the college campus, I’ve been spending the past few weeks going toe-to-toe with anyone who actually thinks they’re a good idea. After studying their implementation in the market, I’ve simply not been sold on their use. Never the less, the popularity of QR codes continues to rise, and my opinion of them continues to prove an unpopular one. Case in point: eduGuru‘s Michael Fienen did a great job of spotlighting a recent disagreement we had on the topic.

Yet despite my impassioned opposition to the technology, a single conversation at EduComm with Katie Miller-Smith, director of Catchfire Media, managed to change my entire perception of QR codes, all in a matter of minutes.

See, I’ve been judging QR codes based on their current market implementation – which generally involves a QR code that simply directs you to a website, which isn’t even always mobile friendly. I’ve argued – and still believe – that simply providing a user a shortened URL could achieve the same call to action.

But while chatting with Katie on the subject, she pulled out her business card and flipped it over. On the back of the card was a QR code that – when scanned – would instantly load her contact information into your phone’s contacts. Check it out below.

This is where the light bulb went off for me. The power of QR codes isn’t in directing a user to a website, it’s in going a step further. Whether it’s providing a user with contact info, instantly placing an online order, or providing them with a 1-step sign up, the power of QR codes is in making a users life easier. To hammer this point home further, check out how Tesco utilized QR codes to create virtual grocery stores in South Korean subway stations.

So was I really wrong for hating on QR codes? Well, I’d like to save a little bit of face and say my angst was simply misdirected. QR codes aren’t the problem – they can actually be really exciting and useful. The problem is a combination of current hardware restrictions and – more importantly – the limited creativity behind much of their current use in the market.

Still, I owe a tip of the hat and thank you to Katie for expanding my perception of the technology, as well as a thanks to Michael Fienen for never being one to back down from a heated dialogue.

As part of my role as host of Higher Ed Live, I constantly find myself on the front lines defending and promoting my opinion of the latest trends in marketing and technology. It’s a role I absolutely love. But if I’m going to go live every Sunday and share my thoughts, it’s just as important that I hold my head high and acknowledge when I’ve been a bit short sighted, or even downright wrong – though I’d like to think that doesn’t happen too often.

So was I wrong to doubt QR codes? Or am I wrong now for finally buying in? Let me know what you think!

- Seth Odell

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NFE2OMCPWHLISDC27IYAF3NTHM Matthew P

    The problem isn’t necessarily what QR codes direct the user’s phone to do – it’s that people don’t have QR code readers on their phones AND they’re relatively difficult to use. Sure, there are some extremely cool uses out there – very creative stuff, and let me say, I’d like to see them take off – but I’d venture to say that 99+% of the public either doesn’t have access and those that do either don’t care or  don’t have the tech ‘savvy’ (I know, it doesn’t take much) to use them. QR codes have been around for a LONG time – they’ve had plenty of time to take off – and they simply have not. It’s too bad. Now that Google has pulled its support for QR codes, I don’t see them going any other way but out.

  • http://twitter.com/jesskry Jessica Krywosa

    I’m still on the fence. Like you, I was an instant ‘hater’. This is more because of the misuse of the technology and the rampant ads in mags and on public transportation that have to define to you how to use the service. It still begs the question: how does this help students? If it puts them in contact with us, well, in my opinion, we’ve not been doing that right. Does it help them find financial help? Will it mentor them to college completion? In the changing demographic flip we’re headed for and the economy instability we’re indefinitely in, I worry that technologies like these take away from our real every day challenges, if only for their initial ‘wow’ factor. Higher ed lemmings follow, and its a round about we cant get out of. 

    :)

    • JBradford

      I’ll never understand ‘instant haters.’ I get maybe being an ‘instant questioner.’ But, instant hater? Yikes. That’s a sad life.

    • JBradford

      I’ll never understand ‘instant haters.’ I get maybe being an ‘instant questioner.’ But, instant hater? Yikes. That’s a sad life.

  • Miriam Jayne

    I would look into the way museums are using QR codes to direct visitors to interactive content.  There are some interesting examples of augmenting museum learning and bridging the divide between on-land and online learning.  Musicians are also taking advantage of QR codes – leading their fans to concert info and deals, free downloads, etc.  The basic premise, which you identified in this post, is if you have a QR code, there’s gotta be added value for the participant on the other end.  

  • http://twitter.com/m1ke_ellis Mike Ellis

    Like any technology, it isn’t about the technology (mainly) but about the content. QR reader penetration is problematic, but so are some of the usability elements (“stand still a moment longer, my scanner isn’t working”).

    At the end of the day, QR is a unique identifier just like a 2d barcode or RFID. The end result is subject to the creativity and the content being provided.

    I’ve done some reasonably successful QR demos – see http://electronicmuseum.org.uk/2009/12/07/uk-museums-on-the-web-2009-qr-in-the-wild/ for one where we had VCards being sent when people scanned conference badges (I’ve done this on two or three subsequent tech conferences) – I also ran a QR team-based treasure hunt at IWMW 2010 (http://iwmw.ukoln.ac.uk/iwmw2010/). Both went down pretty well – but these were tech audiences who are happy to accept the quirks of the approach.

    • Anonymous

      Mike,

      Thanks for sharing those examples! Those are really creative and cool to see. You’re absolutely right though, audience is a huge factor. Targeting QR use to an audience that not only gets QR codes, but has the patience to see them through, is a great point.

  • http://twitter.com/MrBarnett/ David Barnett

    Still not enough for me to predict success, its nots o much the benefit of QR codes if used and more to do with the hurdles for new people to start using them.   If they get integrated into iOS and Android so you don’t have to find a third party program to use them, I think that maybe they can take off (preferably a separate app with an icon that looks like a QR code to help make the association – but that’s doubtful).  Right now, it’s just too much of a leap for a typical user to figure out they’re called QR codes and can be interacted with via a smart phone, find an app on their phone that reads them, open the app, scan the code and then hope whatever they get was worth all that effort so they’ll do it a second time.   

    I’m not rooting against QR codes or anything, I can imagine many ways they’d be useful but I’m not going to invest much until I see some of the hurdles disappear or evidence that they’re wildly successful despite the hurdles. 

    Still the neatest example of QR code use I can come up with is this video:

    http://vimeo.com/21228618

    • http://twitter.com/lanejoplin lane joplin

      I don’t think that it not being integrated into the OS is the issue. Even if there was an app with on the phones already. I mean the newest iOS has Twitter preinstalled, but I don’t believe it will influence the number of users on Twitter.

      I think we have our Higher Ed blinders on sometimes when it comes to marketing. 2D barcodes have not permeated our target market yet. We have just come to a tipping point of smartphones. Once smartphones hit their critical mass, I believe there will be the opening for 2D barcodes to take off.

  • Jhogan

    I shared your disgust for QR codes as well. Now the challenge is to think of better implementation. Good post!

  • Nfcreader

    If you monitor the QR Code business on an hourly basis like I do you cannot but notice the vast increase day by day on their usage. For further confirmation check out the graph in Google’s external keyword tool. Far from being dead they are being used more and more and consumers and marketing copmpanies learn how to benefit from them, rather than discard then I say combine both QR Codes and Near Field Communication Technology into one tag and then you are future proof
    see http://www.typtag.com for more info

  • Nfcreader

    Valpak to send out 80 Million QR Codes

    In one of the largest QR Code campigns during July and August 80 million U.S. households will receive a Valpak envelope with a QR Code that with link the QR Code scanner to a socila media related website, a TV alert, mail opt-in or other calls to action.

    Convinced?

  • Anonymous

    I have to say that I sat on the “QR Good” side of the debate from early on though that may have been a result of having lived in Japan (where QR codes were developed) and had seen their multiple uses already. Sitting back and understanding though that much of the use had been “here’s a QR code it takes you to our full site” makes me see why people seemed to hate them so much.

    I do agree that there should be a little hate but it should be for the people using it poorly.  I don’t think you were wrong to doubt QR codes given the examples you
    had been presented, Seth. I don’t think it’s flip flopping cause you weren’t
    given all the information to begin with.

    http://www.qrstuff.com/ is a great site I found for making QR codes for more than just a URL. I can see many uses. Quickly adding contact or event info to students phones from flyers. Doing a campus scavenger hunt with QR codes/google maps to get  them to learn the campus.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment and link! QRStuff looks awesome. Going to be exploring a bit more today.

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  • http://www.edutain.co.za Grade 8 Afrikaans

    QR codes have huge possibilities in the eCommerce market. Check this video out to see what I mean. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oPM4Ui6Sjfk

  • http://twitter.com/whitneyg whitneyg

    What if a QR code showed a student competitive prices for a given textbook right from the shelf of their college store’s textbook dept? I think a few hundred thousand kids might find that helpful (BTW it works with sms too). I like it not just because I work for the folks who make it (BookRenter), but also because it gives local independent college stores the ability to compete with online offerings and big chains. 

  • http://twitter.com/whitneyg whitneyg

    What if the QR code provided students with competitive prices on a given textbook right from the shelf of their independent college store? Shameless plug aside, it’s gives students more choices on textbooks and gives local businesses a chance to compete with the amazons and halfs of the world. 

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  • T. Clements

    I am glad to hear that you were willing to reconsider QR Codes and appreciate their versatility. So many people would not have taken the time to understand the technology fully, before making an informed decision. That being said, I would like to share how QR codes can be used to measure the effectiveness of print ads, prospective student mailings, etc.

    QR Code Analytics & Tracking: Just like
    web analytics for a website, QR code analytics allows schools/advertisers to track how
    people interact with their QR codes. This is valuable because it can help schools know which posters, mailings, brochures, were well received, and which were not. To do this, simply place a QR Code on each piece of material and track the number of scans. Specifically, at
    the website http://www.barcodeconnections.com, you can track:

     

    1.
    How many people scan your QR code. (Total number and unique scans)

    2.
    Where people scan your barcode. (The geographic location)

    3.
    When people scan your barcode. (Hour by hour, in real time)

    4.
    How long individuals spend on your website (if the QR leads to a website) after scanning your QR code.

    5.
    Total number of website pages individuals view after scanning your QR code.

    6.
    The bounce rate of people who visit your website after scanning your QR code.

     

    This
    data is useful for anyone who uses QR codes, and can help ensure schools, businesses, and advertisers are
    effectively engaging the people who are scanning the codes.

  • bgibson135

    Add “Mobile Barcoder” to Firefox, and project the generated QR images for your class to follow along on their mobile devices. –  About to attend a conference? It would be nice to use QR images for participants to import “Calendar Event” info, on the sessions they want to attend, to their phones.  –  Place a QR image in a textbook Table of Contents, so that a student with a phone & their textbook could link easily to additional resource materials (audio/video/discussions).  — I’m not for a QR image on every page, but if you have a magazine & a web site, then one QR image in the Index, to make it easier for readers to get to an online Index with links for each page & all important items on the page (whether it be more article resources, or advertisements).

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