QR Codes: What they are and what they mean…

My current fascination is with all things QR code related. I think they are such a great mobile tool and let’s face it, mobile is where we are all going! When I am busy showing someone a new trick I just found out can be done with a code, I am always surprised by 2 things:

  • They don’t really understand that much about what a QR code can do and
  • I always get this “WOW” from them when I show them!

So this blog is my dedication to the QR code and what, so far, I have seen it do.

What is a QR Code?

QR stands for Quick Response and the square two-dimensional code can be decoded by using a QR code reader on your smartphone. Simple answer is they are those square barcode looking things you see around, however they can hold more information and hence do more than a simple barcode.

How does it work?

To be able to process a QR code you will need a smartphone with a camera , internet access and a QR code reader. Many smartphones come preloaded with a reader app.  Wayne Sutton has a great blog posting covering reader apps for all different phones: QR Readers

Once you have a reader on your phone, start it up and take a picture of a QR code. Try to keep your hand steady! Depending on both the software and the QR code contents, after scanning it can take up to 30 seconds to decode the code.

This is one of my QR codes that takes you to my social aggregator site ItsMyURLs.com

QR Code for Fiona

QR Code for Fiona

What can QR codes do?

Unlike a simple barcode, the QR code is able to contain far more information. This means that there are all sorts of ways to use a code and make it do more for you. For instance, you can have a QR code that takes you to a website, creates contact information, open a YouTube video and more. It seems like every week there is another service or option added for the codes. Here is a list I have seen for a few now:

  • Calendar event,
  • Contact information,
  • Email address,
  • Geo location,
  • Phone number,
  • SMS,
  • Text,
  • URL,
  • WiFi network.

Did you notice that last one – WiFi? I hadn’t come across this before and tried it out – I was able to create a QR code that when scanned with connect you to my secure WiFi network – without me having to share the password with anyone! So maybe you have a store and want people to have internet access – secure internet access: Create a QR code for your network that people can scan to connect to your WiFi.

You want your own QR code now?

Come on, stop pretending you don’t want to have your very own QR code! Great thing is, they are free to read and free to create! There a heaps of sites out there offering all sorts of free QR codes. These sites can generate codes that will open a map of your restaurant location, send an SMS or set up a predefined tweet.

I’m all for not reinventing the wheel if I don’t have to, so I am going to direct you to some sites I have found useful:

Why QR code popularity?

Or why is the QR code market expanding so rapidly?

  • More and more people are equipped with a smartphone
  • More people are accessing the web from their mobile devices
  • Marketers are discovering it is a simple tool that can be tracked easily
  • Consumers like the ease of mobile surfing via the QR code – take me to your website!
  • Put it on your business card and share contact details easily at networking events

I was at Home Depot last week and noticed they have QR codes on the plastic tags on each planter. I, being excited by such things, whipped out my phone and did the scan dance. Up popped a website that told me all about the growing needs and habitat of the plant I was looking at! How many times do you throw the little tabbies away when you plant everything and then don’t know if you should cut it back in Spring or Fall? Now I could use the QR code to go to the website, email that link and hey presto, best gardener EVER!

Some of the things people are doing with QR codes are really exciting. There is a restaurant in Boston that is using squid ink to make QR codes that go on the dinner plates. When you scan it you will go to a website with recipes and ingredients. Some can even source the boat the fish you are eating was caught by!

Mobile website considerations

An important point to remember about QR codes is that any URL you  point to is likely going to be accessed via a mobile device – make sure the site is mobile optimized!

This became apparent to me after I had added a QR code to my business cards. I was using an aggregator site to link to all my social media accounts. Site is very pretty, but was a hog to load on my smartphone and way too small to read without a lot of pinch and zooming! Not exactly that first impression you want to give people.

At one of my visits to Mass Innovations nights I saw the real deal: ItsMyURLs

A social media aggregator site that doesn’t do just social media accounts, but any URL you want – and it is optimized for mobile use! It is free to create an advertising supported account or a small yearly fee for an ad free site. For any sites you add, you can see how many times someone clicked on the link. Oh, and did I mention, they will generate a QR code for you!!!

Dynamic QR codes and analytics

Most of the sites I have been talking about to generate a QR code will make a static code: if your website changes, so to will your QR code need to be updated. Bit inconvenient if you have taken the time to print up or advertise specific codes all over your literature! The solution to this is using a dynamic QR code.

There is a free site out there called BWscan.com that allows you to generate QR codes and then assign websites to them. Which means you can keep the same QR code, but change where it will take people –  on the fly. What they really excel at though is for campaign management. For each QR code you set up , you can assign campaign start and end dates and get real time stats on how often the code is scanned, how many unique users and map their location. Their website has a very good page on case studies highlighting some examples of the different ways QR codes can be used.

Custom QR codes

So for you now experienced and seasoned QR coders, the next step is to create a custom QR code. Once you see one, you want it too! Here is my new custom QR code:

Custom QR Code

Fiona’s custom QR code

Snazzy huh?

How much did this puppy cost me? $0

Yup, you can even get these for free! Here is the magic website:


Click on the tab Graphical and you can upload an image to be added to your QR code.

While you are on the site though, take a look at what else you can do – create a QR code to map to an address, send a text message, etc.


Got a feeling this is one of my longer posting, but that is because there are so many little things to get in there and show you. I am able to use my dynamic QR codes to switch between a website about me, downloading contact information or joining my WiFi network – all depending on where I am going to be.

You could be using a QR code with a coupon for discounts on your products or services – then track how many times that code is being scanned. Or you could use it like Best Buy and Home Depot to provide consumers instant access to more detailed product information and reviews in store.

I have a feeling that the QR code function is only going to grow as more genius people come up with ever greater ways to apply them to the world around us. Have you seen any other examples of QR code magic around?

Got a QR code reader/generator you want to talk up – put it in the comments…


5 responses to “QR Codes: What they are and what they mean…

  1. Awesome overview of QR codes, Fiona! We started experimenting with QR codes at our events a few months ago — it took a little doing but we managed to combine a QR code with a “ClickToTweet” to generate a tweet automatically. We tried both QR codes and the Microsoft Tag codes — it seemed like more of our attendees had QR readers on their smart phones. Here’s a link to the Slideshare Tim put together on how we did it: http://www.slideshare.net/timstansky/how-i-created-qr-tweets-for-min24-7254871

  2. Thanks Bobbie, for sharing that link for the slideshare – that is a really good walk through of how to implement the codes. Course, I had to test the QR code in the slide – to make sure it worked! It still does. Have to admit I haven’t played with the MS Tag codes yet…

  3. Great post Fi. My dad has just had a knee replacement in the Great Western Hospital, Swindon and I note that they’re using QR codes on the patient wristbands. They sure can pack in a lot of information – scanning my dad’s wristband returns his name, date of birth, patient number and a bunch of other useful information (no web link on how to care for the old boy though).

  4. That’s cool Steve – hopefully useful info contained like ‘knee replacement’ in case they get confused and remove a kidney! Now what you need to encourage is each doctor and nurse have a QR code name badge that you as a patient can scan and see details of their education, and complaints against them, etc! Actually, maybe we should ALL have a badge like that!

  5. With the lousy camera in my iPod, I had trouble scanning codes before. After reading this post I decided to give it another try. Happy to say the I-nigma scanner app works (or at least worked for the 2 qrs I tried scanning in a magazine). I’m set!

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