This week, the New York City Council passed a bill that requires all city buildings with permits of any kind–think restaurants, bars, and daycare centers–to provide QR codes that link back to more detailed information. So by fall 2013, you’ll be able to whip out your smartphone, scan a code, and see exactly how many times an inspector has caught rats lurking around your favorite bagel shop. If, that is, you’d like to know such things.
Here’s the problem: The QR codes won’t be in logical, easy-to-scan places, such as a storefront window or a restaurant’s letter-grade card. They’ll be on the unglamorous permits themselves, which means they’ll likely be tucked away behind a bar or around a desolate corner en route to the bathroom. In other words, they likely won’t be in places where it would be convenient for you to get out your smartphone, open your QR-scanning app, scan the code, then read about the lead paint-laced restaurant you’ve already sat down to eat at.
Still, it’s a step closer toward the city’s goal of achieving data transparency, and a complement to its open data initiative to organize all public information from city agencies in a single online portal by 2018.
Though the open data ethos of empowering consumers by equipping them with easily accessible public data is powerful, it’s hard to imagine this QR code initiative taking off when the barriers to entry are, if not high, at least awkward and annoying. And it’s unclear who will be using QR codes in 2013. Last year, less than 14% of American smartphone users scanned QR codes. And they didn’t have to reach over the bar in order to do so.