professional reflections

Quite Resourceful?

I spent half an hour this morning experimenting with QR barcodes, prompted by Andy Ramsden who is running a small test/survey. I used various iPhone clients to try to decode and make use of three QR codes printed on a sheet of paper. Each of the three codes encoded different information - a URL, a simple string of text, and an SMS message with mobile number respectively.

It transpires that the iPhone does not make a first-class QR decoder. There may be several factors involved here, but the main one seems to be the rather poor camera which often lets the iPhone down. Having tried several (free) clients with mixed - but generally disappointing - results I settled on ' Barcodes' which works rather well, insofar as the iPhone allows it to. One important tip with the iPhone is to take the photograph from a distance of around 18 inches from the QR code - this is counter-intuitive, but it works better within the tolerances of the fixed lense and means that you then have to stretch the image with an iPhone 'gesture'. Again, this actually worked quite well, but it is a shame that all of this is even necessary. My Nokia-toting friends tell me that it works so well on that platform that it is actually fun, rather than a little chore. Having said that, once the image capture stage is done, Barcodes on the iPhone was actually really good. It interpreted codes correctly, figured out which applications to launch (Safari web browser or SMS client) and was generally well designed. I won't comment further on the details of the experiment and the results as Andy is going to write this up himself.

So, QR codes - what are they good for? There's clearly some interest - I mentioned what I was doing on Twitter and got quite a bit of interest. But it's still rare to come across QR codes in the wild. I see them occasionally on blogs/web-pages but I just don't much see the point of that (except to allow people like me to experiment). I see QR codes as an interim technology, but a potentially useful one, which bridges the gap between paper-based and digital information. So long as paper documents are an important aspect of our lives (no sign of that paper-less office yet) then this would seem to be potentially useful.

Mia Ridge, who joined the Twitter discussion has also blogged some thought about this - linking to Tony Hirst who mused about embedding links to video clips in QR codes in the margins of paper-based learning materials. Interesting idea? Not entirely convinced, but Mia reckons she would use this.

There seem to be so many factors at work here. If I had a Nokia, with a small screen but quick & direct QR reader, then Tony's idea would make more sense to me perhaps. With my iPhone, and it's wonderful big screen and Safari browser but poor QR support, I'd want to read one QR code at the start so I already had the accompanying website for the learning material/course/lesson and be able to navigate around on the device, not on the paper. This is a different model to Tony's - his is driven by making a direct connection between one section of a paper document and single digital artifact.

Nonetheless - there are plenty of similar opportunities. Imagine walking around a museum - scan a QR code attached to an exhibit, load the URL and get a commentary played on the iPhone without needing to supply/hire those dedicated units some institutions supply to visitors.

The client end of this type of system still has a way to go I guess….


[…] a couple of posts that linked to my post on Video Print (Finding problems for QR tags to solve and Quite Resourceful?) I started to ponder a little bit more about a demonstrable use case that we could try out in a […]

About two years ago I considered printing up a set of moo cards (or similar) with QR codes on. The idea was to have each QR code link to an index of publications from OSS Watch on specific topics. We would hand these out at events instead of the full printed documents.

I shelved the idea because there weren't enough people who knew what QR codes were at that time.

Maybe now is the time to revisit the plan.

[…] paul walk’s weblog « Quite Resourceful? […]

Interesting to hear your thoughts on this stuff. I'm also intrigued to hear what you mean by this being an interim solution - I'm guessing you mean the technology rather than the approach? It seems to me that the ways in which we begin to bridge the gap between virtual and real is something that is pretty permanent…however short-lived paper is, I don't think we'll see the back of physical objects for a while yet :-) (see my blog post on Everyware:

In a real world context such as a museum, you're absolutely right - this stuff would be incredibly cool. BUT the major issue of software installation is a huge blocker both for individuals and for institutions. Individuals don't understand anything about installing applications, let alone installing applications on their mobile phones; institutions would either have to invest in devices that they rent out to visitors (and have to cope with the whole raft of problems that follow on: insurance, charging, fixing, installing..) or let users install a specific app once they arrive at the museum. It's these kinds of practicalities which shoot a good idea dead..Until major telcos or phone manufacturers start to push these technologies ready-installed, we'll be in trouble trying to get an adequate level of adoption.

As you know, I am trying an experiment to approach the same virtual/physical divide using mobile phones and SMS over at I know you've played with it a bit - but it's essentially trying to do exactly the same as QR codes, but without the need for software. Instead it just uses SMS as the bridging mechanism. I figure SMS is a powerful approach because it is about as ubiquitous as you can get: everyone has a mobile, and every one of those people uses SMS, probably bar none.

Stufflinker works really well, but one thing that I've noticed with it is that people struggle to deal with the notion that "things happening here on my phone" can change / communicate with "things happening out there on the web". I think this is becoming more and more a staple part of people's mobile lives as adoption of the mobile web finally begins to embed itself into our daily lives, but it is a real consideration which still hasn't gone away.

As always, it is both interesting (and frustrating!) that an idea with such massive potential faces more issues with the human stuff than the technological…

City AM (a free London daily business newspaper) use QR codes printed on the frontpage to drive visitors to their mobile site. It's a simple idea that does actually work really well. There is clearly great potential for this in any number of marketing/promo activities. I suspect we will see more and more QR codes popping up in unexpected places in the UK as tech-savvy marketing bods latch onto the idea over the next year or so. In the commercial arena QR codes (and Semacodes) are already common place in Japan and increasingly so in north America. I recommend a visit to for any readers interested in exploring the weird and wonderful world of 2D bar codes.

I think the most important point you make is the idea about 'bridging the gap between paper-based and digital information'. I think it is more than just A4 with a code in the margin, I see them as being on research posters pointing to forums and websites, 'interactive' notice boards and exhibition type data. I've also started looking for them in the wild and found one in the wild earlier this month - it was the washing label information in Paul Bailey's baseball cap. Will keep looking…

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