QR Codes for mobile phones should be the greatest invention of the past 5 years.

They’re simple to create. They can be scanned on most phones (if you make it easy) and they are culturally identifiable – when you see a QR code, you probably know what it’s creator intended for you to do with it.

The problem is: stupid marketing people.

Because QR codes are so easy to create, people figured they had to try to do something cool and unique with them.

And they failed.

On billboards - While I’m driving? Really?

Subways - Maybe I get a cell signal, definitely not 3G or 4G.

In an email - Ever try to use your phone to take a picture of your screen?

On Web pages - Isn’t that like hiding the map under the treasure chest?

And, what would happen after you scanned them? They’d load a web page! Or send a text! Or try to get you to download an app! (Wait – I thought this was supposed to be The Future?)

Many of these sorry examples have been well documented in Scott Stratten’s book, QR Codes Kill Kittens: How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground

These terrible uses of QR codes have conspired to give them a bad reputation.

(See, I told you it wasn’t your fault).

Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

As a tool, a QR code (or any type of 2D or 3D bar code) is only as useful and reliable as what’s encoded within it, the software that scans it, and the context it is presented in.

Another great example of poor QR code usage is on business cards.

For those who don’t know, you can encode what’s called a vCard in a QR code. After scanning it (if you have the right software) you can save the vCard data – typically someone’s contact information – to your address book.

It works, some of the time.

Why isn’t it reliable?

First, the more data you encode in a QR code, the more complex it’s structure becomes. The more complex it becomes, the longer it takes for your smartphone to recognize and decode it – especially older smartphones and those with fixed-focus cameras.

Then, if you’re actually successful in getting it to scan, the encoded data might be formatted incorrectly or contain information that your software doesn’t know how to handle. (Twitter names or URL’s are the worst offenders.)

All this is easily fixed.

When we created Qrious, we wanted to provide a system for the capture and use of all types of event data – including contact information. We wanted the broadest support possible and we absolutely didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, so we decided to use QR codes - but we didn’t stuff them full of information, like vCards.

Use a pointer, not the data.

When you scan a badge containing a Qrious QR code using our software, we read a tiny amount of data stored in the code. (Less data = simpler codes = faster scans)

Like a link on a web page, our QR codes are simply a request for the information you’re looking for – a pointer, saying, “Go hither! Find my data!

Our apps instantly cross-reference that pointer with a full, rich profile that may contain a whole bunch of properly-formatted data.

For instance: Full Name, Title, Company, Twitter ID, LinkedIn URL, Facebook URL, Full mailing address, a URL of a photo or headshot, answers to qualifying questions, etc. The possibilities are virtually endless.

If you’re an exhibitor, that data is immediately available in your Qrious Exhibitor control panel and is ready for import into your CRM system or smartphone at any time.

If someone else on your team scans that person, we de-dupe it – but we merge the notes - so the context of each interaction isn’t lost. (Again, it’s just not practical to do that with a vCard.)

Using QR codes this way, we have unlimited flexibility.

If you’re an Event Organizer, we can use this event data to give you a simple headcount. Or, we might tell you how many C-Level executives are eating lunch. Or, we might tell you how many people require Continuing Education Credits (CEC) in a conference session.

Or something else that’s really important to you.

It’s Not About The QR Code - It’s about the User Experience (UX)

Using this method, the best user experience is when someone scans a code with a Qrious app - but we don’t ignore the fact that anybody might scan these codes - and have planned accordingly.

If an attendee scans a Qrious badge using any old QR code scanning app, what happens?

The scan will most likely launch the web browser on their phone and, if they confirmed their identity with Qrious, they’ll receive an email with a (simple-but-properly-formatted) vCard belonging to the person whose badge they scanned. (We call these BadgeCards.)

Foursquare gets it.

Have you tried to scan a Foursquare QR code on a retailer’s door? It links directly to the store’s listing in the Foursquare app, making it easy for you to check-in, leave a tip or post a photo.

It’s a great experience.

So, the next time you see a QR code, treat it with some respect. Someone may have actually given some considered thought as to how it could be helpful for you.

(No kittens were harmed in the creation of this blog post.)