"The funky tags"

NYT has a story about the QR bar codes that have been posted in the Rensselaer train station and on about 50 CDTA buses. They're part of a test for one of the big display advertising firms (they lead people to a drawing for an iPad or bus passes). A CDTA spokeswoman says the org hopes the interactive ads will provide a new revenue stream.


QR codes are a super-useful way to map the physical world to the public tubes. They encode almost any kind of terse, textual data in a plain format that most smartphones can decode and do something with. I've been displaying one on my front door (photo) for about a year.

Surely there's a coming age of annoying, commercial QR-code noise, but my aim is purely practical. The arrows in my sign point at two doorbell buttons, and were designed to make clear that, no, if the girl on the 3rd floor doesn't answer her bell it's not okay to ring the 2nd floor bell and see what happens. Can't claim ignorance. This works really well.

The QR code augments the text. It contains only the URL "http://quillio.com/" -- from where anybody can find out who I am and get more information. I could instead display one containing detailed contact info (example).

It's not yet determined what the user expectation should be when scanning a QR code, but it'll vary with the setting. URLs work well for smartphones, which offer to open the decoded link in the device's web browser, and off you go. But since they can contain other data, we'll have to wait and see what conventions arise. In-store shopping coupons come to mind.

Already implemented is the must-have QR-Code Tag Extension for Google Chrome, which displays a QR code of the webpage you're viewing, so you can open it in your phone's browser. You can achieve the same thing with chrometophone, but the QR approach doesn't require a Google account. It does, however, require Android and Chrome. Looks like there's stuff for iPhone.

Last, QR is robust. The photo of my door sign was taken quickly with my Nexus One, at night (just now), through glass and at an angle (to avoid flash reflection). Yet if you display it on your PC monitor, your smartphone can still decode it instantly. They're as durable as a tattoo -- another application for QR. Think about it: a QR tattoo of your favorite haiku is at least as spiritual as Chinese characters.

Here: twist one up.


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