QR Codes

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QR Codes

Post by rogerwimmer » Tue Jan 03, 2012 5:49 pm

Doc: Thanks for answering my question about “Tips & Tricks” for Android phones. I plan to try what you suggested on my phone. I mentioned that if you answered that question, I would send another about QR codes. Here it is . . .

I have apps on my phone that allow me to scan and read barcodes and QR codes. I think the new QR codes are cool and I’m wondering why they aren’t used more often. For example, can QR codes be used on websites? Any other uses? Thanks in advance. - CK

CK: You’re welcome for the answer about Android phones. However, while your new question seems simple, you opened a “can of worms” because I’m going to have to address a few things before I get to your answer.

The commonly recognized barcode (optical image interpreted by some type of scanner and typically referred to as a UPC Code, or Universal Product Code), has been used for about 37 years, if the information on the Internet is true that the first use of a UPC was on a pack of a Wrigley Company chewing gum in June 1974. (That’s a very simplified discussion of barcodes. For a detailed history of barcode development, click here .)

However, regardless of the first date of use, UPC codes are now used virtually everywhere and most people understand that the codes represent a tracking or identification number of the item on which the code is placed. This universal understanding is not true for QR (Quick Response) Codes. From the information I found, my guess is that most people in the United States don’t know much, if anything, about QR codes. Let’s take a look at why this is the case.

The QR code or 2-D Code (for two-dimensional) is a square matrix type code that was invented in 1994 by a Japanese company called DENSO Corp., a subsidiary of Toyota, to track automotive parts. QR codes are commonly used in Japan and in several European countries, but have not been widely used in the United States. But this will change in the next few years.

The reason why QR Codes haven’t been used much in the U.S. in the past several years is that people (consumers like you and me) haven’t had a way to scan the codes to interpret the information. This is changing rapidly because of the availability of free code-reading apps for cell phones, particularly smartphones. QR Code reading is becoming commonplace for people who have the ability to read the codes, and the number of people who will have the ability to scan the codes will increase dramatically over the next few years. When that happens, the predictions are (and I agree) that QR Codes will become a significant and widely-used communications vehicle.


If you don’t know much about QR Codes, you may want to read a few articles in this search. You’ll find everything you need to know about QR Codes and also that there are many websites where you can generate your own QR Codes.

If you don’t want to read several things in that search, at least read this article because it provides an excellent explanation of the layout of QR Codes.


OK, I assume that everyone reading this sentence has read a few of the articles, or at least the last article I mentioned. You should now have a good understanding of QR Codes and I can skip ahead to some uses for the codes.

While there are thousands of uses for QR Codes, you asked specifically about using them on websites. I just did a quick search on the Internet and found a use on TimeandDate.com for an Android World Clock. If you’re reading this on a computer screen (as opposed to a cell phone) and have a phone that can scan QR Codes, scan the code to see what it says. I’m sure there are many uses of QR Codes on websites, but I’ll let you look for them.

Other uses? There are just too many uses for me to list and you probably already read about many of them in the articles in the search. But here are two things that I did with QR Codes to provide a few uses. Scan the codes if you have a phone that can do it.

Example 1
Here is a QR Code that will take you to my personal website. I generated it on Kaywa.com , one of the best QR Code generators I have found.


Hint: QR Codes are usually generated as PNG files. If you generate a QR Code and it is a PNG file, don’t convert the file to a JPG because you may lose some information in the compression process. I learned this the hard way when one of the codes I generated produced errors when I scanned it. Aside: I mentioned this to one of my friends who is a District Attorney in a large Midwestern City. He said, in a tone suggesting that I should have already known this, that the legal system in his city will not accept photos, particularly fingerprint photos, that have been converted from a PNG or other file type to a JPG file. He said a study by computer peeps in his city showed that JPG conversions often produce errors and they are not allowed in courts in his city. Well, OK then.

After I produced the QR Code for my website, I thought I would produce one for my business card. I did that and printed out a few experimental cards and it worked great. My business card is a simple QR Code and people with phones that can scan it, simply scan it and save the information. Cool, but I did it just for the heck of it.

However, that gave me an idea of producing a business card QR Code stamp. I went to a local office supply store with a flash drive containing my business card QR Code and asked if they could produce a stamp.

“Oh no, we couldn’t do that because the information is too small. It won’t work.”
“Will you try? I’ll even pay you if the experiment doesn’t work.”
“We have never tried making a stamp like this and I don’t want you to waste your money.”
“That’s OK. I’m just curious to see if it will work.”
“Well, let me call the manager.”

The Manager arrived and the woman helping me explained the situation. He said, “Well, Linda is correct in saying that we have never tried making a QR Code stamp, but if you’re willing to pay for it regardless of whether it works or not, then we’ll try it for you."

Cool. Linda downloaded my PNG file and after about 20 minutes of editing it and fitting on the computer screen, she produced a rubber stamp with my business card QR Code. Guess what? It worked perfectly! The woman called the Manager over again and I showed him that it worked by scanning the image I stamped on a piece of paper.

“Hey, that’s great. Linda, why don’t you make a sign that says we can now make QR Code stamps and contact Corporate to let them know that we have a new product.”

“Does that mean I can get my stamp free since you now have a new product to sell?”
“Uh, no. You agreed to pay for it regardless.”
“Thanks very much.”

My commission on this new product for the store? Zero. But I now have a business card stamp and have used it many times, including stamping my wife’s forearm to see if my phone would read it from human skin. Guess what? It worked perfectly and it only took about two days for the bruise to disappear from my arm where my wife smacked me after I stamped her. (Hey, don’t all dermatologists need a QR Code stamp on their arm? I thought so, but she didn’t agree.)

Example 2
Another example of QR Code use that you probably didn’t read in any of the articles is my Example 2. You may find this interesting, but I’m not sure.

Our granddaughter is 6 years old and she is already very well versed in the use of cell phones. She knows how to use iPhones and Android phones and has no problem sending texts and emails from just about any cell phone. That gave me an idea for a use for QR Codes.

Like most young kids at Christmas time (or other gift-receiving time) Taylor is always eager to open her presents. She is given a gift. Open. “Thank you.” Next gift. Open. “Thank you.” And so on. I thought I would add a little mystery to the whole process and made about 20 QR Codes that my wife and I taped to packages. Some of the codes said, “Taylor Wimmer” and other codes said, “Not Taylor Wimmer.” Her job was to scan the codes to see which packages belonged to her.

My youngest son, Jeremy (aka Buckwheat) took his phone and showed Taylor what to do.

“Take the phone and press the Scan icon and then scan the code. After you do that, you’ll have to read what the code says to know if the package belongs to you.” He showed her ONE TIME how to get to the scanner and how to scan the code.

“OK, I understand,” Taylor said and she proceeded to scan the packages. “This is for me.” “This one is not for me.” “This is for me.” And so on. She thought it was fun and it significantly slowed the package-opening process. She said she wants to do the "scanning thing" again next year.

Here is the code I made that shows her name,


and here she is scanning a package . . .


End of examples.

Does that give you enough information to start? A few articles I read say, “QR Codes will take over the world.” That statement is probably a bit strong, but I do think the codes will become commonplace when more people can scan the codes and more companies and individuals figure out how to use them effectively.

One final thing . . .

While QR Codes offer the potential for a variety of useful and effective communications, there are, as you may already know or can guess, several idiots producing malicious QR Codes that take people to X-rated websites or even install a virus, malware, or other nasty item on a person’s cell phone. Like most people, I don’t understand the thrill the idiots get from doing stupid stuff like this.

With that in mind, if you can scan QR Codes, use common sense and scan only codes from legitimate companies or from people you know. That’s not a guarantee that the code will be legitimate, but it should increase your odds of staying away from the nasty stuff. In addition, if you scan a QR Code and the information indicates that there might be a problem (e.g. taking you to a strange-sounding website), then don’t go to the website. Just hit the button on your phone to get out of the scan app.

For more information about malicious QR Codes and what you can do about them, click here .

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Roger Wimmer is owner of Wimmer Research and senior author of Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 10th Edition.

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Re: QR Codes

Post by rogerwimmer » Thu Jan 05, 2012 6:18 am

Doc: Thanks a lot for the information. I enjoy your column. - CK

CK: You’re welcome and I’m glad you like the column.
Roger Wimmer is owner of Wimmer Research and senior author of Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 10th Edition.

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