QR Barcodes | Identifying yourself digitally

QR Barcode belt buckle from Fluid Forms.

Soon, this QR Barcode is all you may need to connect to their Facebook profile. Image from Flickr.

In 1974, a pack of Wrigley’s gum was the first item ever scanned using the new Universal Product Code barcode system. Twenty years later, a Japanese corporation created the “QR Code” – a two-dimensional bar code designed for “Quick Response”. Since then, the QR code has been slowly but surely working its way into our everyday lives the same way the barcode has – identifying everything from instant loans to magazine subscriptions. Though in the last few weeks, the QR code has started making headlines of its own. From a QR barcode on Facebook to SXSW conference badges, they’re popping up everywhere, and developers are hoping you’ll use your phone to interact with them.

What exactly is a QR barcode?

A QR barcode is similar to the standard linear barcode in that it uses a matrix of printed black and white to encode information into the 1’s and 0’s that are easily read by computer programs. Rather than a linear design, though, the QR barcode uses square pixels that can pack a large amount of information into a small printed area.

The QR barcode can be printed in black and white on almost any product or piece of paper; it can also be displayed on screens, including mobile phone screens. The QR barcode can also be photographed or read with many mobile phone cameras and provide instructions to the device.

QR barcode – Facebook testing for use?

This morning on Facebook, for a few minutes, an option appeared that offered the option of creating a QR code for a profile or a status. While the option has since disappeared for most users, it has started a firestorm of speculation.

Generated by m.facebook.com, these QR barcodes on Facebook appear to be targeted to mobile users. Most likely, the intention is that you can use your QR barcode as a quick and easy way to connect others to your Facebook profile – a printed version on your resume or as a sticker on the back of your phone, for example. The QR barcode could essentially become a link to your identity – and soon, you may not even need to show ID to get payday loans no faxing.

Use a QR barcode as your movie ticket

Facebook is not the only online application that is experimenting with a QR barcode, however. TechCrunch reported that Fandango (and competitor MovieTickets.com) have rolled out limited city testing of a QR barcode ticketing system.

Rather than having to print your purchased ticket, this system simply displays a QR barcode on your phone screen that can be scanned at the theater. This removes a printer from the equation, and it would reduce the wait at the ticket-printing kiosks at the theater. Here, the use of the QR barcode saves Fandango customers frustration and gets them into the theater faster.

QR barcodes at SXSW

As one of the biggest gatherings of tech-savvy in the United States, the South By Southwest conference is always trying out the latest and greatest. This year, all conference attendees got personalized QR barcodes on their conference badges, with the intention that the QR barcode could be scanned when two people wanted to exchange personal contact information – saving the hassle of keeping track of a stack of business cards.

CNet reports, however, that this experiment has not gone completely smoothly. Required logins proved to be more of a stumbling block than organizers had hoped, though they plan to improve the system for next year.

The QR barcode is not yet a perfect system

QR barcodes are showing up everywhere – but that doesn’t mean the system is without hitches. Much like barcode scanning applications, all QR barcode apps rely on the camera built into phones. These cameras are not always able to easily take a clear picture of the barcode, leading to unreadable data.

Low-light situations and shaky hands add to this problem. There are also privacy concerns, as many people have very little desire to link their digital lives and physical lives so quickly and easily. There are also other, competing “next generation” barcode systems, such as the High Capacity Color Barcode and RFID tags, which both promise to store even more information than the 4,296 alphanumeric characters that the QR barcode can store.

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