QR, or ‘Quick Read’ codes are appearing all over the place: just recently I’ve seen them on a poster advertising new timetables at the railway station, on cookery programme on TV and in every magazine you open. If you’ve got a smartphone and have downloaded the appropriate app then these codes can open up new content and new web locations to you that you might not otherwise have accessed.
But how useful are these codes, really? Are people using them? Do they represent a step forward in extending the reach of content or would a more people-friendly URL do the job better? Well, a study published last week suggests that, in the USA at least, 14 million people may have scanned a QR code during June 2011 (read the article here, if you like stats). So should we be paying attention or not?
Chris Silver Smith, writing in Search Engine Land gives a very good set of pros and cons about this new technology. Starting with the cons does give his article a slightly negative flavour, but his example of how a South Korean supermarket is using the codes is really imaginative and extraordinary: Are QR Codes Good For Local Marketing? A Contrarian View.
More moot to the voluntary sector is this pair of articles by Allyson Kapin (Frogloop). In the first article, Allyson outlines 5 ways that charities can use QR codes – in brochures and publications, or in goodies distributed at events, to name but two – to drive people to specific places on their websites that might otherwise go overlooked. Check out the whole article: Five Ways Nonprofits Can Use QR Codes.
Her second article, QR Codes in Action. Five Nonprofits Share their Experiences lists examples from North America where charities have used QR codes in imaginative and engaging ways to either enrich the experience of a service user, jump to interactive content explaining the charity’s purpose, or just raise awareness of their work. Given that the QR code is just another delivery-mechanism to get visitors to a website or other source of information, what’s exciting about these examples is their inventiveness: sending the visitor to a video of someone explaining their experiences really makes those connections that drive understanding about a charity’s work, and hopefully encourages people to take some action.
But there’s more to it, surely, than just generating a QR code and expecting everyone to scan it (shades of the dreaded ‘If you build it, they will come’). Mashable (and thanks to Beautiful Things for the link) printed a useful infographic – based on a pretty small sample of 500 people in the US – which suggests that the majority of people who said they had scanned a QR code recently did so to get a discount on a purchase of some kind. Would this work for charities with retail arms? And even if it does, what extra information are we providing to the visitor about our work?
My jury is out at the moment about whether QR codes are the next big thing, have been the next big thing and are now old hat, or whether they should just be seen as another tool for getting content across. What do you think?