What is a QR Code?
QR codes (Quick Response codes) are like traditional barcodes, but on steroids. Traditional barcodes can only hold about 10–20 characters and information is read by a scanner in a linear, vertical format.
QR codes, on the other hand, store information like a traditional barcode in a vertical format, but also add information that is stored and read horizontally. This 2nd dimension is called a 2D matrix bar code. Because information is now stored horizontally and vertically, it gives QR codes the capability to store a larger number of characters than traditional bar codes: 4, 296 alphanumeric or 7,089 numeric characters, to be exact.[i]
Any information that is stored on the 2D matrix appears as a square filled with black and white square dots.[ii] For the most part, to take advantage of QR codes, you have to download an app that reads the code, unless your phone comes with one. Some interesting statistics about QR codes are 52 percent of people have heard of or seen QR codes, and 28 percent have actually scanned them. iPhone customers lead the other OS platforms, Android and Blackberry, in actually scanning QR codes, with iPhone users at 68 percent, Android at 26 percent and Blackberry at only 4 percent[iii]. Some of the major brands that have incorporated QR codes in their advertisements include Google, Audi, Ford, Pepsi, Starbucks, Ralph Lauren, McDonald’s, Best Buy, Dryers, Crest, Redbox and Taco Bell.
Starbucks is already using QR codes
Starbucks has already started to utilize QR codes in an interesting way. In March 2010, Starbucks introduced their Starbucks Card Mobile iPhone app. Greg Kumparak of MobileCrunch explains how it works: “The entire concept is pretty simple: punch in your Starbucks Card info, verify some details, and BAM! The iPhone app becomes the gift card, presenting a secure QR code for the Barista to scan when it comes time to pay up.”[iv] There are many things QR codes have been used for including, branding campaigns, art work, T-shirts, coupons, and other creating things companies have come up with.
One interesting thing that Google started doing with QR codes in 2009 was something they incorporated in a campaign called Favorite Places on Google. Google blogged a question which read, “What if you could decide where to shop, eat or hang out, with a little help from local Google users?” To answer this question they sent over 100,000 window decals to local businesses in the U.S. (which included OrangeSoda.com). These local businesses had been heavily searched on Google and/or Google Maps. The window decals indicated that the certain location was one of the Favorite Places on Google. The decal included a QR code that could be scanned. These QR codes took the scanner to the business’s place page, reviews, coupons, and enabled the scanner to “star” the business as a place they want to remember in the future.[v] A great info graphic that explains a little of the history of QR codes can be found here.
Generating your own QR codes
There are lots of free tools to generate your own QR codes, goo.gl is a pretty good one because it works as a url shortner at the same time and will track statistics, like how often a QR code is scanned. We take away a few points because the QR code interface is a little unruly =, while goo.gl creates creates QR codes automatically it can be a pain to try to get them the right size. So we recommend using goo.gl or another url shortner in conjunction with a QR code generator like this one. This way you can get nice, usable QR codes, with tracking.