Systems have linked data with physical objects for decades. We are all used to the bar code, and the occasional attempt to halt the tide of automating retail systems through them. To some, they represent more than just a series of black and white lines.
QR codes, a recent innovation in this area, provides more opportunities than bar codes. They are free, in that it is possible for anyone to generate a QR code based on information such as a URL, email address, or contact details. They can also be customised in their display – to a point. There will always be a certain blockiness to them, but can contain limited features such as colour.
Terence Eden is an energetic, infectious advocate of QR codes. Eden is expecting a flourishing scene to be built up around them – their use, their proliferation and propagation, and an understanding of their potential in the eye of the consumer. Essentially, to Eden, QR codes are the lever that is so needed by both publishers and consumers, unlocking information at an environmental point of access which is comfortable with the consumer. They will no longer need to memorise or write down URLs, or type them into mobile devices with small keyboards. Further, and importantly from the perspective of access, QR does not require an aggregator, as is required with a competing technology like Microsoft Tag.
However, this is not to say that QR codes are easily understood by publishers and agencies. Eden's work in QR technology has given him a level of knowledge and opinion in the matter that is both passionate and logical. It seems easy to consider how and where QR codes should be used, but we are still in the early days of their use, so experiments will take place and mistakes will be made.
One of the problems of the QR experience to date is, for Eden, actually one of the easiest to overcome. Many QR codes, designed to be scanned by consumer mobiles, point people towards a full website without considering that someone is on a mobile phone, without plugins such as Flash. He gives the example of an ad in the Evening Standard for a tour operator, whose QR code initially took the reader to a mobile-formatted webpage, only for it to start to download a 10mb PDF. This is less of a technological issue, than one of assuming a single audience: if more consumers are adopting QR code reader technologies in their phone (either with new devices or retrospectively), then there will be a wider variety of situations. Not everyone will have an iOS or Android smartphone, and not everyone will be on wi-fi. The offered code has to be flexible to operate within a wide variety of mobile environments. This sounds pretty obvious and logical, but is still missed when campaigns are in development.