Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
By Mike Gould
By now you’ve probably seen hundred of these mysterious codes in magazines and other media. This is called a QR code, and while not a new phenomenon, it was new to me when I started to prepare for ArtPrize in Grand Rapids last month. “QR” stands for “Quick Response”, although I have also seen it referred to as “Quick Read”.
At the Art Mines
Some background: I spent three weeks in Grand Rapids (GR) displaying a piece of laser art in the atrium (I just typed “artrium” - art on the brain, I guess) of the JW Marriott hotel. To prep for this my PR person Zita Gillis and I prepared a bunch of postcards, business cards, and posters to publicize the event. Zita talked me into including QR codes into everything and so we did.
This is not something I had done before, but I found it easy, convenient, and, well, fun. I was assured that today’s connected young people and savvy adults use this all the time, and sure enough, I saw it used quite a bit at our presentation’s table.
ArtPrize is a city-wide event in GR, and this year some 1,500 artists showed up to show off paintings, sculptures, performance pieces, and in my case, 4,000 square feet of laser lumia display lighting up a 250-foot tall wall (probably the largest indoor laser lightshow in the world). And ArtPrize itself is a wonder: sorta like the A2 Art Fairs only city-wide, but with very few people selling stuff, other than encouraging you to like their art.
As it is a competition, the voting was done mostly from smart phones. You had to go to a website to register your phone, and you were then sent an activating text message that enabled your phone to vote once for your favorite piece. We had QR codes at our table that enabled this registration via QR links to the ArtPrize voting site.
A lot of people liked our entry enough to sign up on the spot and vote for me. (Spoiler: We didn’t win anything. Our display was only visible at night, after most of the voters went home.)
Dots To Bits
The way it works is that you use the camera in your smart phone to scan the code, and an app on your phone translates the code into a web site address, and whisks you away to the site. If you scan the code above, it will take you the BizMo website. And I know it works because I just scanned it off of my computer monitor.
So this becomes a link from the analog world of you and your smart phone to the digital world of the WWW. On the web, you click on a button or high-lighted text to go to a website. In the real world, you aim your phone at a magazine, poster, or other physical medium, click the app, and away you go.
The coolest example of this I have seen locally is at a computer business on Carpenter road, just south of Ellsworth; they have a 3 foot square QR code on their business signboard out in front of their building.
Nuts and Bolts
This all started in Japan in 1994 by a company called Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota. They developed it to track autos and auto parts during manufacturing. Unlike standard grocery store barcodes, QR can be read sideways or upside down, making parts tracking easier on the scanner. This is a marked improvement over the standard bar code that has to be read horizontally.
Another improvement over regular barcode is that grocery store-flavored bar code can only contain 20 numbers, whereas QR code can hold thousands of characters, whether numbers or text, or both.
The examples above lead to web sites, but QR is much more versatile than that. It can be used to link to phone numbers (scan a code, and it dials your smart phone for you), sending a text message, or email.
For instance, you could set up a bunch of QR code stickers around the route a night watchman has to take. At each station, he scans in a code and this sends a date-stamped text message to a security server. Or a camera-enabled iPad (any of the current models, but not my old one, alas) could replace the standard bar code scanner used in inventory procedures.
QR in the Wild
Or you are on a fall self-guided tour of a wooded area: there are QR codes placed at strategic places that explain the trees you are looking at, points of interest across that river there, or historical notes. This is currently being done by carved wooden plaques, for the most part; these have to be periodically painted and kept up. With a QR code, you can emboss them onto small metal tags that should last indefinitely. And if you are linking to a website with more information, you can change the info without having to re-make the sign.
The above assumes a complete adoption of smart phones by the general population, but the way the industry is going, all phones will be smart in the years to come.
I have added QR code to the back of all my business cards, and have even invested in a rubber stamp that enables me to add my code to anything I happen to mail or publish in a non-digital format.
There are a lot of apps available for the various smart phones out there. I use QRReader, which I downloaded from the Apple App store (URL below).
QR reader on Android:
My laser art page:
Mike Gould dabbles in QR codes, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser display devices, performs with the Illuminatus 2.2 Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.