Using QR codes as they are meant to be used

.QR codes have been around for a few years, but it seems like they are finally making some traction in the mainstream.  QR codes are those square, space invader-looking things you sometimes see in magazines or on store windows.  They can be used to connect mobile devices to apps or web sites. I have long thought that their huge potential has been seriously under-utilized.  Too often I see QR codes used as gimmicks that provide no tangible benefit to those who take the time to scan them.  The end result is that many people (myself included) just start tuning out the proliferation of QR codes.  Yes, this means I run the risk of missing out on something cool and useful. But it just isn’t worth my effort to find that one useful QR code for every 9 useless ones.

Yesterday, while walking through Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum I stumbled across a great example of just how useful QR codes can be. They have placed signs with QR codes scattered throughout the arboretum with short explanations of their apps. The information provided is just enough to to pique one’s interest and encourage scanning the code.

Harvard collects a huge amount of information about their collection.  More than just the standard genus and species.  They also list how and when the species was acquired.  I recognize that the average person may or may not care that much about those fine details, but as someone who loves obscure trivia, I find it a nice addition.  While that extra information can make a paper guide too unwieldy, it is a painless addition to a mobile app.

As I child I used to love guided nature trails.  Trails with a guide listing information corresponding to markers throughout.  As a city girl, I always found (and still often do) nature to be somewhat bewildering.  I loved having something that I could focus on and understand.  Arnold Arboretum has brought the guided trail concept into the 21st century.  They have 2 new mobile apps that provide geo-located access to their collections, down to the level of an individual tree. I tried the Mobile Collection Research app and it worked fairly well while I was standing on Peter’s Hill, the highest point in the arboretum. I had trouble making the app work when I was back on the lower paths, presumably because of all of the tree cover.  Ironic, I know.

The arboretum launched the apps just last week, so there is no way to know long-term how successful their effort will be.  However, I believe it is important to positively reinforce anyone who uses QR codes as they really are meant to be used.  Especially organizations like the Arnold Arboretum that are asking for feedback to improve their efforts.  I encourage anyone who lives in or is visiting Boston to check out the new apps and provide their 2 cents to the folks developing and maintaining the apps.


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2 thoughts on “Using QR codes as they are meant to be used

  1. Alana says:

    I bought my first smart phone about 3 weeks ago. i was very interested in exploring QR codes – and, I have to say, it was a major disappointment. One example: I was in a local nursery buying a heirloom tomato plant (i.e. an "old fashioned" variety). I scanned the QR code expecting to find out more about that particular tomato variety.. What I got was a web site giving me general tomato cultivation information. I didn't even see a link on that website to more information about what I was thinking of buying. I already knew how to grow tomatoes – I wanted specific information about that variety. Bottom line, I was frustrated, and did not buy the plant.

    • evacatherder says:

      Alana – Experiences like yours really frustrate me because those that use QR codes well are hurt by those who don't. I suspect you will be less inclined to explore QR codes in the future.

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