Home QR Codes: Useful Tool, Neat Toy or Robot Barf?

QR Codes: Useful Tool, Neat Toy or Robot Barf?

The QR code is a weird side effect of the mobile Web revolution. The idea is so nice; a link between the Web and the real world through the powerful computers in our hands. But even though they’ve been around for a while, QR codes are still mostly used for mundane purposes, rather than innovative ones.

The technology has three problems at a pretty low level: smartphones are still an elite product, the scanning process can be clunky, and QR codes look more like robot barf than something meant for humans. The potential is there, though. How can we make a better link between the Web and the world outside?

Even if most people only use QR codes like old-school ads, we’ve seen some truly innovative uses here at RWW. There’s Wikipedia’s sci-fi museum service, QRPedia, and there’s a great solution to the awkwardness of business card-based networking called QR Card Us. If consumers with smartphones would only get into the habit of using this technology, these kinds of interactions could be rich and engaging.

But QR codes still aren’t easy to use. Software to read them isn’t even built into the camera apps on popular smartphones, and scans using QR apps often fail or miss. And the robo-barf critique is more fundamental than that. Maybe people just can’t get over how ugly QR codes are.

Is this better?

A very nice developer named Andras Nagy reached out to me today to show me a tool he and three other Carnation Group devs made called QR Hacker. It’s free, requires no prior skills, and it lets you make QR codes that look totally wild just by using click-to-draw pixel art. Of course, talented artists like Nagy can make codes that actually look branded and nice, instead of like psychedelic cyborg vomit.

The point is, with only a little effort, it’s possible to make QR codes that look human-made. Does that help? Will it make more people want to use this technology? I asked RWW fans what they think of QR codes and got some great responses. Please feel free to share more thoughts in the comments below.

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