What Business Card? Just Scan My QR Code

QR code

Everywhere you look at the South by Southwest conference this week, you see QR codes. The square "quick response" codes turn URLs, vCards, or any kind of text into a jumble of pixels that you can scan onto your smartphone instantaneously, no typing required. At SXSW, QR codes appeared on flyers, postcards, business cards, t-shirts, stickers, and swag. Organizers of the Austin gathering for film, music, and Web geeks even included a QR code on every registrant's badge to cut down on paper waste and manual data entry.

The SXSW site explains:

When you meet someone at an event, let them scan your badge with their smart phone, and they will automatically be following you on [the conference's social network] my.SXSW, where they can message you or access your contact information. Hopefully, this will cut down on the paper footprint of SXSW by reducing the need for business cards.

From there you can export all your SXSW contacts to your address book, email, or contacts application of choice.

QR codes could be just a passing SXSW fad—unless Facebook introduces them to a wider audience. Leaked screenshots indicate Facebook's experimenting with profile or status QR code generation on fan pages, according to TechCrunch. Imagine a QR code that instantly makes the person scanning it a fan of a brand, company, or personality on Facebook without ever typing a URL.

Google's also been encouraging the use of QR codes. Their "Favorite Places" campaign puts QR codes in the windows of local businesses that point to their online listing page. Google's mobile operating system Android has also helped along QR code adoption. Since the Android Market is available only on the small screen, it's common for users to find an app by scanning its code from a Web page or another phone's screen. This t-shirt, which features a QR code promoting an Android-focused Web site, was a SXSW giveaway.

QR code

While QR codes have reached a mainstream Japanese audience, in the U.S. QR code usage is limited to alpha geeks—and not all of them are sold on the idea. At SXSW, blogger Robert Scoble wore a t-shirt with a QR code that pointed to his Twitter feed, and talent agent George Ruiz encoded his contact info into a QR code. But some geeks are skeptical of the awkward technology. Many think QR codes are gimmicky, clumsy, not used well or enough, or that they're "a solution looking for a problem."

Still, if you want to experiment with QR codes, you'll need a couple of tools.

First, install a QR scanner app on your smartphone. Search the Web for "QR Reader" and the model of your phone to find a scanner app; they're available for the iPhone, Windows Mobile, Nokia, BlackBerry, and other app-based phones with a camera built in. (I use an Android app called simply "Barcode Scanner.")

Scanner App

Once you've got a scanner installed, point it at a code to give it a try, like this one:

QR Code

(Hint: this code contains a URL that will bring you to the mobile version of the site you're reading right now.)

Second, make your personal or company QR code. This QR code generator can embed a URL, text, a phone number, or an addressed and ready-to-send SMS message into a QR code. Two things to keep in mind when you're generating a QR code: the more data you stuff into your code, the smaller its pixels will be, and the more sensitive the scanners will have to be to read it accurately. Second, if you're encoding a URL, make sure it's a site that will load well on a mobile phone browser. Here's more on best practices for using QR codes in your business.

Finally, if there's no scanner for your model phone but you happen upon a QR code online, enter it into this online decoder to see its contents.

Two other nifty uses of QR codes include PayPal payments (like a tip jar QR code) and replacing airplane boarding passes.

Have you ever seen or scanned a QR code in the wild? Is it a geek novelty or a must-have for all mobile users? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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  • jgotty

    SCAN or Click! Download a FREE White Paper on "The Top 5 Ways To Use QR Codes To Grow Your Business!" 

  • Fred Murray

    QR codes are becoming much more mainstream as people get used to the ones out there. As more large companies use them for major advertising ( like on the Superbowl) they are becoming visible to more people. Advertisers are using them in unique ways, usually with bonuses involved, to get buyers to their sites. I thought they were very useful when I first saw them and have started to advocate their use on my blog  The Heuristic Marketer at http://bit.ly/zB8TgI . I believe they are far too useful to be discarded as a technology.

  • Linh

    Don't forget about forms such as feedback forms, job application, health care screening forms, etc...) and surveys. You can use QR code for a survey (or form) you created online as well. Say you created an online survey that is easily accessible from a mobile device. Then you create the QR code for your survey's link. You can then print out the QR code and post it up anywhere. You customer's can easily scan your QR code w/ their mobile device and complete your survey in just a matter of seconds. You can put this idea to use now at http://www.mobosurvey.com. Similarly, you can create forms that can be accessible through QR code. Say you're hosting some type of event (say a concert) and you want feedback or information from the audience. All you have to do is pop a QR code on a screen somewhere and your audience can easily access your feedback form from a mobile device and complete the feedback form in just a matter of seconds. 

  • Vlad

    You might be intrested in QR code generator, which creates codes for business card as well as other types of data like URL, phones, SMS, text. Moreover it supports scans tracking, which makes its handy in marketing. Check it out:

  • Daniel Hunter

    I had a client ask about this for her web development strategy. She had a company that would generate and track a code for $99. I told her she could generate and track a code virtually for free and pointed her in the right direction. Myself, I am not on board. I do not see them as that useful considering the efforts necessary. Maybe if the app was native and somewhat autonomous, like a hot button that i just hit on the home screen and voila It is read.

  • Chris Mathews


    Great article. I really believe that QR codes will take off soon. You can find some really cool designs of QR code <h ref="1800businesscards.com">business cards here. If companies start to include QR codes in more advertisements like </h>

  • $24884164

     The biggest problem with QR codes is that you need a smartphone with a camera to read them. If I see a QR code on a web page or electronic document on my android phone, there is no app that will read it on my phone. So I need 2 phones to read QR codes? I thought being a Google product and and multitasking, I should be able to see what the qr code is on a computer without rescanning it.

  • Vishal@QRky

    At QRky we add corporate individuality to your business card by promoting personal internet streams, photos and videos all accessible through a simple mobile barcode.

    When receiving QRky cards, anyone can use their smart-phones to scan your card, explore attached content like videos, pictures and twitter updates and download contact details to their address books.

    Check out- www.qrky.co.uk/video

  • Jessica M.

    Check out http://www.bwscan.com for free dynamic qr code generator with free scan analytics. Dynamic qr codes allow you to update information in the code without changing the code itself.

  • Richa Vaish

    Its true that QR Code is capturing the market. Most of the companies are using the QR code for storing their information as well as for customer convenience. Just scan the QR code and you are here with all the information. No need of carrying papers with you all the time. But the thing is that the internet or wireless must work properly otherwise all your efforts are in vain.

  • Mike Stintino

    Problem with most QR codes is that it's like taking up to date technology backwards. If you 'hardcode' details into the QR code then print it, you lose most of the benefit of having the QR code at all. Best practice is to use a connection hub like http://kimtag.com where you can point the QR code then redirect or list your contact details. Makes more sense.

  • Daniel Watkins

    There is no doubt that QR codes are taking off. There are systems out there that incorporate logos and pictures into the QR code too. Check out what we are doing with QR Codes Andy Lynn

  • David Eyerevan

    Obviously there is a novelty factor around at the moment, at least in the West.
    This means that probably for a year or so you will be able to get relatively
    easy attention for any message, URL or offer that you attach to the code.
    Use on business cards by the way still gets lots of attention.
    Personally, I hate to use the online code generators which often redirect the
    URL and ultimately control your code.
    I've found a free desk top version at http://m4rk3t1ng.com which suits.

  • Jessica M.

    Great way to create qr codes for your business cards is to generate dynamic qr codes. Check out http://www.bwscan.com. They give you free stickers as well to use behind your business cards. With dynamic qr codes, you can update your information (e.g., phone number) without changing the code itself.