(One of my Montana Arts Council State of the Arts Newspaper Tech Talk Columns)
You’ve probably seen those little black and white squares on items at the store and maybe on street signs and posters. They look like digital hieroglyphics, something like a pixilated TV screen when the picture breaks up for a moment. They’re called Quick Response (QR) codes, and they hold digital data that can be scanned and read with smart phones and tablet computers.
QR codes are not the same as the ubiquitous barcodes on books and CDs that encode ISBN numbers and prices. But QR codes do convey information like barcodes; “quick response” means the digital information in the pixels takes the scanner’s smart phone or browser directly to a website, a Facebook page, a Google map, a YouTube video, and on and on.
QR codes were first created by Toyota in order to track parts in their auto factories, but soon found other uses outside of manufacturing. And because Toyota has allowed free use of QR codes without license or fee, that has been a boost to their usage around the world.
QR-code usage is growing fast due to the large numbers of smart phones in use. If you have an Android-based smart phone, the web browser can read QR codes. Blackberrys and iPhones can also read QR codes with free Apps.
The use of QR codes is heavily skewed towards the “men between the ages of 18 and 34” demographic, but that should change. See en.wikipedia. org/wiki/QR_code .
If you’re an artist, you can put QR codes on the backs of your paintings or on the bottoms of your tea cups and buyers can scan to go to your website. Arts organizations can put QR codes in business windows and on street signs (within the law) so people walking the sidewalks can scan and get more information.
The QR code you see here contains the website address of MAC. I generated it at one of many free QR sites available. QR codes can also contain small amounts of text, so a QR code can contain an invite to an event as well as the website to go to for more information.
In the Fashion and Style section of The New York Times recently, there was an article titled “Want More Information? Just Scan Me” that covers many of the different aspects of QR codes in use in stores, museums and for tickets and other functions. See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/22/fashion/qr-codes-provide-information-when-scanned.html .
Of course, with anything high tech, there are some security risks. QR codes can take you to a website that might be a fake copy of a legit site and can be set up to steal your personal information. So be wary if a QR code takes you directly to an online store or banking site that asks for personal information; they could be scams.