Q: What are those strange patterned square boxes that I am starting to see everywhere and what do they do? - Kendra
A: Those strange square boxes are called QR codes (Quick Response) and they have actually been around for quite some time. It was created in 1994 by a Japanese subsidiary of Toyota as a two dimensional barcode for tracking parts during the manufacturing process.
Popular for years in various Asian countries, it’s starting to gain traction in the United States primarily as a marketing tool.
The primary focus of QR codes at the moment is to entice mobile users to scan them to connect to a web address, offer promotional discounts, download a MP3 file, dial a telephone number or even launch your email client with a sender address.
You will start seeing them a lot more often in magazines as a way to further explain an article or to get more information on a product that is being advertised.
Marketers like this new trend because the demographics of tech-savvy camera phone users tends to be a very desirable one for most advertisers and you can track exactly how many people scanned the QR code.
In order to read QR codes your smartphone or camera phone must have a barcode reader. All major smartphone platforms have numerous and many “feature phones” with cameras can download readers.
A comprehensive list of QR code readers by platform and phone type is located at http://goo.gl/RtpKB .
Once you have the reader on your mobile device, you simply open the program and point the camera at the QR code placing it within the target area displayed on your screen.
Once it focuses on the QR code, it will read the instructions imbedded within the random patterns and as you if you would like to execute the instructions (go to a website, call a number, etc.)
We’ve posted a quick video of how this works on our YouTube channel: http://youtu.be/Xp35HafRGqg
There are numerous uses for QR codes, especially for businesses.
One of the challenges of today’s digital communication landscape is that there are too many to list on a business card (phone, fax, email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.)
By placing a QR code on your business card with the suggestion to “Connect with me,” you can list all of your contact resources on a web page where there is plenty of room (or set up a free profile at https://about.me with all of your links).
QR codes can be printed on coffee cups, T-shirts, places in the front window of your business, in your advertising, your phone book ads, your website or just about anywhere on or off-line that you want to engage with your customers.
There are many ways to create QR codes for free (if you already use Google’s URL shortener at http://goo.gl, each link you create comes with an associated QR code if you click on Details at the end) but my favorite resource is at http://zxing.appspot.com/generator .
This powerful interface allows you to create QR codes for: calendar events, contact information, email addresses, geolocation, phone numbers, SMS (text messaging), general text, URLs and Wi-Fi network access.
Whether you are a consumer or a business owner, you should seriously consider getting up to speed on using and creating these really handy digital barcodes!
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.