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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Decoding QR Codes tech at Barcamp RDU

I was unsure what to present as a tech talk topic at Barcamp RDU. I think a lot about using technology to raise awareness of technology which can put you into a bit of a quandary when it comes to where to focus your time. All technical evangelists must find the right mix of breadth and depth to be effective communicators and reach their target audience: fellow technologists and in my case, software developers. I've been exploring and experimenting with new trends in social networking at conferences and tech events recently.

My QR codes talk at BarCamp RDU #BarCampRDU 2010 hot topic

One of the hot trends I see popping up is use of QR Codes. QR Codes are by no means new, but there seems to be a renewed attention given to them in the U.S. and around my hometown recently. I decided to pitch this topic because it is in some ways as buzz-worthy as Location-based services / apps and shares a similar level of skepticism from the uninitiated. I have had a few projects where QR codes have been used recently, both professional and personal, so I've got a fair bit of experience to share. At the Barcamp Saturday, there was another developer who pitched a QR code talk, so we combined our sessions into one, and garnered enough interest to take over the Main hall at RedHat with somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 votes. There was spirited discussion around the practical use and some perceived risks, plus a healthy amount of positive feedback from the audience in the twitter backchannel indicating that many people were going home with some good geeky brain food.

QR Code Nerds @theRab and @hartsock at BarCamp RDU 2010 QR codes at BarCamp RDU 2010

Here are the intro slides Shawn used to kick off the talk, but we didn't get past slide 9 or 10 before we dove into discussion lead by the audience with examples and experience.

What follows is a sampling of the discussion topics with references:
  • What are QR Codes? They 2D bar codes!
  • QR Codes connect people to stuff (i.e. URLs, data, people, actions).
  • Market viability in US and Smart phone usage statistics. The latest numbers by age demographics.
  • How to measure QR Codes usage. Easiest way? The URL shorteners you are already using.
  • Using QR Codes with URL Shorteners: Automation and analytics with Goo.gl and Bit.ly.
  • How much data can you fit in a 2D barcode AKA the QR Code? A fair bit. ~3K worth. That's almost 7100 characters of text!
  • QR Codes are "big in Japan" - pervasive success cases outside the U.S.
  • New adopter worry: Security risks of QR Code object payloads or malicious URL.
  • Trust of QR Codes use by consumers where the brand is not well known.
  • Flip side: QR codes are a fun way to discover new information - Excitement factor!
  • We browsed Google Images for QR Codes as a group. We found some interesting ones! Here, LMGTFY.
  • Concerns raised: Some people don't trust short URLs from unknown sources in general.... but your client app is the filter for bad barcodes.
  • Reliability and flexibility of QR Codes, embedding data vs just URLs. Text is best. Everything understands text or a URL.
  • Good libraries to generate QR Codes: ZXing project on Google code.
  • How to create a QR Code quick, on the web with Kaywa and other web sites.
  • Linking QR Codes back from the computer. Shawn Hartsock's app: QR Linkulator.
  • How to scan QR Codes: smart phone apps for iPhone and Android. Here a shot of the apps I like.
    My QR code scanner iPhone apps
  • What is a Microsoft Tag and should we care? (I saw them used at Web2.0 Expo SF in May, haven't seen one since then...)
    Microsoft Tag scavenger hunt contest
  • Use cases for QR Codes at Events, e.g. Barcamp RDU real-time schedule!
    #barcamprdu schedule http://BRDU2010schedule
  • QR Codes that do stuff, like calling a phone.
    BarCamp RDU 2010
  • Case study: IBM uses QR Codes to connect with developers at JAX London 2010 Java conference.
    IBM Flyer designs for JAX London 2010
  • Examples in Print: SparkCON festival posters in Raleigh.
    #SPARKcon happenings
  • Examples in Print: RSVP for events, Chevy Social poster in Raleigh.
    Chevy Social
  • Examples in Print: R Line mobile map app for Raleigh eco-bus commuters
  • R Line in Raleigh using QR Code for mobile app #qrcode.
  • Stickybits: Barcode stickers for connecting people easily and with purpose.
  • Using QR Code to share vCard information, QR Codes on your business card? yes.
    BarCamp RDU 2010
    Observation: QR Codes pervasive at SXSW in March 2010. Posters, stickers, signs, apps and badges!
  • Len Devanna's SXSWi Badge at AllHat 2
  • Seen in the wild: QR Codes in my Citgo gas station this weekend.
    QR code at Citgo
  • What, huh?: Golf balls, Will Ferrell and colorful non-standard barcodes in magazine advertising.
  • Seen in the wild: QR code on Lawn treatment packaging in Wal-mart? um yeah.
  • How long before QR codes integration in apps like Eventbrite? Tangent: Have you used AR and barcode scan features in smart phone apps for Amazon, Bestbuy, Yelp, etc.? Compare prices of brick 'n mortar stores with online shops and find product information in real-time!
  • Location Case Study 1: QR Codes at the NC State Fair 2010 used for Scavenger Hunt and tweetup. For a play by play, here are my photos documenting the actual hunt. My kids and I ran around the fairgrounds for a couple of hours and had a blast. My wife? not so much. :)
    NC State fair scavenger hunt map
  • QR Codes on Conference Badges: Triangle Tweetup April 2009 and SXSW March 2010.
    Triangle Tweetup badge with QR Code from April 2009
  • Location Case Study 2: Chevy SXSW road trip, MS Tag clues used in location discovery challenges along the way. See more on the Team NC road trip blog.
    Team NC in New Orleans #chevysxsw - clues discovered
  • Location, location, location: Google Places and QR Codes put businesses on the map.
  • Coming soon... Check-in with ease: Location based services + QR Codes = WIN. Using QR Codes at locations to auto "check-in" in TriOut v2.x?
  • Trend watch: Tweets about QR code geek wear: T-shirts! (we are not original. see 2008.)
And so, as more and more people ask me about and experiment with QR Codes or any other "new to you" technology that extend the engagement opportunity of social media and/ or social networking, remember this... It's not about the technology. It's what you do with it to provide value. As Jeremiah Owyang famously said, "Don't fondle the hammer." It's about the connections.

I also took the chance to interview my co-host Shawn Hartsock to find out why developers should participate in Barcamps, what his favorite sessions were and where to find him online, plus more about his project QR Linkulator.

Also, read my Barcamp RDU Afterword blog post where I cover the rest of the day's geek fun.


Nick Ford said...

This is fantastic. I would love to chat with you!Shoot me an email with your contact so we can speak.

Nick Ford


Ryan Boyles said...

Eventbrite announced this week that they are supporting check-in of guests to events in their iphone app with qr code scanning with quickmark technology. http://secondaryartifacts.tumblr.com/post/1431767894/eventbrite-adds-qr-code-check-ins-by-ryan-boyles