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Best Practices in using QR Codes

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QR Codes get a lot of flak from users complaining about impossible to scan Qr Codes and general misuse or misunderstanding by the prople who put these codes all over town.  Recently while promoting a QR Code App I was asked by one of my prospects - I have this web page and I am happy with it, How do I use your QR Codes to aid me in my effort?  

Although there has been a lot of blogs about best practice in QR Codes and all of them have a lot of insights most are centered on marketing and an assumption that a QR Code needs to contain a URL link. The fact is URL links is just one of many options, in fact the other options have more value than just a link to a website.  

What and why QR Codes?Edit

QR Codes are simply barcodes with huge capacities. Because of the capacity,  instead of simply containing codes, QR Codes + mobile phone means QR Codes can also contain instructions that can direct your mobile phone to do an action; several actions in fact. 

Even simple product barcodes themselves have intrinsic value because it streamlines certain task like grocery checkouts. QR Codes with more capacity coupled with the intelligence in our smartphones  has immense potential for streamlining simple day to day task and this is what people whould be focusing on. 

What are the things that QR Codes can do:Edit

The following is a partial common list, a superset of every action a QR Code will do will number into hundreds and maybe into thousabds in a few years time. The list will grow depending on the apps,  the users and usage.

Some will support multiple items in 1 QR Code (which is called a compound QR Code) some apps (particularly those that do not have any parsing logic) will read 1 action and then ignore evrything else. 


Edit




Question -  How should I use Qr Codes?

My Answer is the following:  Use it sparingly, Do not use it for the sake of using it, Use it when it makes sense. For an Organization that markets a product the best usage will be:


1. Invitation to an event:Edit

Put a calendar event in the QR Code *VEvent: this is a common for QR Code so most apps will actually scan this and set a calendar event and an alarm.

Provide a contact person a small message and contact numbers. This is intrinsic in the VEvent format

Put in a meeting place, an address will do - The QR Code adds value becuase once it detects an address it will generate driving, walking or transit directions to the place.

If the preferred mode of contact is not by phone, you may use SMS, skype, facetime, whatsapp action items to supplement the invitation this is specially true  for virtual events like conference calls where people meet from different places.

Note: The printed invitation themselves should contain time, date and place but having it in QR Code and getting the QR Code to setup everything for you is so convenient compared to setting up the alarms, dates manually and then scrounging around for driving direction when the date comes.

2. Detailed informationEdit

that maybe pertinent to one or a few people who loves to drill in. Most people look at a web page or a print ad to look for brands that they recognize or items that assure them that this is ok. This is true for commodity items and political ads. the main printed page should have already captured this,  A very small minority will want every little detail before deciding. The QR Code is for them.

3. Procedures and InstructionsEdit

QR Codes are extremely convenient when doing a multi step complicated task, Instead of a piece of paper just use a QR Code and the guy performing the task can follow it while doing the task.  This of course includes recipes, cooking instructions, educational games, scavenger hunts and more.

In what Forms or Media should I use it?Edit

QR Codes are visual so anything printed or printable should be in play.

1. Proven Formats:Edit

Mailers are proven to work, so are name cards, luggage tags with QR Codes, Badges (Conference Badges). For QR Codes held by hand the metrics are well knows 1 x 1 to 2x2 inches held 4-6 inches away with good light. You may wish to view QR Size metrics if you wish to know more. 

The controversial mediums for QR Codes are:

2. Posters -Edit

QR Codes require a sufficient image size to decode properly. Most of the time, that minimum is not met because the safe scanning distance is too far or the image is too small, I suspect that more than 50% to as much as 80% of these QR Codes in posters are not scannable due to placement / insufficient size.  It is good practice to test QR Code  for scannability specially if it is intended to be scanned from a far - WIth commercial posters and ads sometimes these are not just possible. 

If you realy want or need an effective QR Coded Poster Read on:

QR Code size metrics:Edit

The decoding logic of QR Codes require 3 pixels per module (at least for Z-Bar, the decoding SDK that I use). A module is a barcode term that refers to an area within the barcode that is either black of white. In QR Codes this translates to the entire size of the QR Code image if it were divided by these black or white bits including the square markers that is used for alignment. The highest capacity of these QR Codes is a v 40 QR Code with 177x 177 modules while the earliest and smallest capacity of these QR Code is a v1 with 21x21 modules.  A QR Code v 4 with 33x33 modules can contain up to 50 characters while a v40 with 177x177 can contain all the way to 7,000 digits or 2800 characters.

Based on the 3 pixel requirement + a required 4 pixel white border called the quiet area the absolute minimum size for QR Codes ranges  from (QRC v1) 71x71 pixels to(QRC V40) 539x539. This of course presumes optimal lighting and a flawless perfectly flat shot  like those captured with a scanner.   Because of bad lighting and shaky hands you will realisticaly need to bump up the minimum by at least another 20 - 30%. This puts the minimum size from 86x86 to 750 x 750. Old model smart phones which typically has a video mode of 480x640 cannot hope to capture the upper limits of QR Codes while those with HD Video (1080x1920) will easily do it so long as the QR Code occupies most of the captured image around 65-80% of a fullHD video capture, less for smaller QR Codes Note this assumes the QR Code app can take full advantage of the phone camera capacity (the defaults in most apps is VGA or 480x640). 

What this also means is that our measurement for QR CODES SHOULD BE BASED on its how much of the code actually fill up the view finder.  And this requirement (assuming similar lighting condition (no shadows), similar focus, similar angle) should remain the same whether I scan the code from 4 inches or from 1 mile away.

 As far as posters are concerned most who post posters aspire for readability - that words read from a distance are readable by the human eye. It is important to realize that the phone camera is vastly inferior to the human eye. If our eye is a camera  it will at least have a 576 Mega Pixels sensor and telescopic lens that range from wide angle to telephoto  see http://clarkvision.com/imagedetail/eye-resolution.html,. Using our eyes to get an approximate feel of scannability over a distance will fail if you do not realize this.  In fact since people bring their phones with cameras all the time it is a simple matter to use the video - Ask the person to take a phone camera video of the place where the poster will be setup - then you should know (based on the required percentage of the QR Code image vs. the view finder) how big a QR Code you should be setting up. 

Don't be surprised if the required sizes reaches 1x1 meter or more, particularly since phone cameras are wide angled.

MethodologyEdit

1. Site Preparation:

Given all these, the best way to plan for a Poster with QR Code is to take a video of the intended site from where you think people will scan the QR Code. Make sure you include an object of known size  in the video like a dummy poster or 1 foot pail in the area where the poster will be put up.  This should be easy with Commercial poster ad firms such as clear channel since the poster bay size are known to them. 

2. QR Code Generation and Sizing

Create the QR Code and take note of the minimum area that the QR Code needs to cover to scan properly, this really depends on the contents of the QR Code since they determine the QR Code version and there for the number of modules in use.

3. Measurements:

Look at the video again and use the object of known size vs. the required area of the QR Code to determine the size. You should be able to determine whether to go with a QR Code poster or just junk the idea as not feaible.

4. Make the poster with the required QR Code Size. 

3. Web Sites - Edit

The whole objection to this is why use a QR Code when an ordinary link will do. This has merit if you presume that QR Codes will always contain a link but I still believe there is merit in doing this if the QR Code content is an event or locations tied up with messages.

4. Email - Edit

This depends on your scanning app, if your app is capable of reading the QR Codes directly from email attachments (as do QRU, QRU Mini and QRU HD) it is very convenient, otherwise it is tedious.

5. OthersEdit

Others Media currently being used are Videos, games, TV and more. As with all others it is best to test QR Codes for scannability.  </li>

Mobile Site requirementEdit

It is likely that your QR Code will be scanned by a phone or a tablet. You need to ensure that the links in your QR Code will continue their mobile experience. Ordinary website which are not mobile aware will generate pages that are unreadable from the phone.  

Anonymous LinksEdit

Majority of the links found with QR Codes have the format http://bit.ly.xxxx or http://ad.fly.xxx or http://goo.x.aaaa  They took off with QR Codes because there was a  presumption on a requirement to keep the contents short and concise (this is a presumption that is not necessarily true but somewhat related to putting QR Codes on posters and keeping the image size manageable).   These are services called URL shorteners, Google has them, so those microsoft, bitly is a reputable company as are most of them, the problem is they make QR Codes anonymous and linking to them  using QR Codes may result in an "ambush" to link you where you do not really want to go.

What are the merits of the service.  Aside from shortening they produce web analytics for members - it means the Qr Code owners can get a report of how many scans were made.  Before you think that the shorteners is a necessity, I'd like to point out that Analytics did not come from these shorteners  Google Analytics for example is parameter based, you may also put in a small java script in your website to do these yourselves by interroga�ing the IP Address and putting up silent counters.

The other advantage is that in News sites like CNN, the use of URL shorteners actualy make the web site perform better since a tremendous amount of the page contents are actually links, not to mention they save CNN an amount of money in terms of storage and archive space they do not have to buy. 

Unfortunately for QR Codes - use of these shorteners and inability to curb abuses and ambushes will eventually lead to mistrust that can kill off QR Codes.  

I have put in some quotes from a Mashable article about the 10 Funniest QR Code Failures and an interview with Brad Frost who came out with a TUMBlr page WTF QR Codes. 

"It's become nearly impossible to leave your house without seeing QR codes scattered everywhere. They're on billboards, in your newspaper, even on your cereal box — enticing you to scan them with your smartphone, and then leading you to who-knows-where on the Web." 

The quote from an article in Masahable called The funniest QR Code failures.  It is topped off by the following :
'
"Using QR codes to drive people to the very TV spots they skip over with DVR isn't just bad user experience, it's insulting," says Frost.

Although Frost says there are most certainly good opportunities for QR Codes, such as paying bills or playing web games between various screens, this form of technology is being misused by marketers.

"With augmented reality, NFC and photo recognition all on the cusp of becoming mainstream, I think we'll see a drop in QR codes — but until then we have some great fodder to work with," says Frost.

I don't really agree with Frost that NFC and photo recognition will replace QR Codes for a lot of reasons not withstanding cost of implementation but the misuse is very real, not to mention that some bad people actually spread malware by creatinf QR Code stickers then sticking them over legitimate ones. The real solution to the problem is for bitly, ad.fly, and other services to audit the links on their servers to eliminate bad sites and probably categorize the links by rating them and providing users access to the links and a decision to proceed or not. Since this is unlikely to happen, the alternative is not to use them in the mean time. 

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