You may notice a funny square code on the flyers around school that promote the new Multimedia Toolbox page of the MW Library Research Commons and wonder, what the heck is a QR code?

Unlike barcodes, often used for inventory-related functions, QR codes (QR = quick response) are more discover-atory in nature. By scanning a QR code with your smart phone, iPod touch, or iPad, your mobile device can play the trailer for movie or assembly instructions for an item you purchased; go to the download page for a song, podcast, e-book, or mobile app; display a digital coupon to use at the store you’re in; show you a restaurant or store location on a map; take you to the renewal page for your gym membership or on a virtual tour of the apartment for rent that you’re standing in front of, etc..

In addition to displaying a web site, video, or map, QR codes can also dial a phone number, pre-fill a Tweet or Facebook post, add an event to your calendar, and more.

  • Anyone can create a QR code for FREE. Goo.gl has a simple site for creating QR codes that send people to web sites. You’ll need a more sophisticated application to embed maps, text, etc., into a QR code.
  • QR codes can be shared on posters, product packaging, direct mail, business cards, t-shirts, campaign signs, and billboards, and via email, Twitter, or Facebook.
  • QR codes have been around for several years, but usage has skyrocketed in the last couple years as smartphones have become ubiquitous.
  • FREE QR code readers and creators abound. The application I used to test the QR code on the bookmarks is from TapMedia in the UK.

Does everyone own a device that can scan these yet? No. In fact, I don’t (thanks to Mrs. Chappell for letting me test the code on her phone). But now that you know what these wacky black and white boxes are, I bet you’ll start noticing them in art exhibits (Picasso at VMFA), in stores (like Best Buy), in magazine and newspaper ads, on signs in airports, and elsewhere. And now you’ll think, I know what that is! QR codes – demystified!

Oh, and in case you’re gazing at the QR code below and wondering – so if I scan the image on my computer screen with my smartphone, it’s going to launch the Internet browser on my phone and automatically pull up the Multimedia Toolbox web page, without me typing a single character – yes, you’ve got it! Here’s a 3-minute video from CNET (from 3/24/10) that explains a bit more about how QR codes work. Enjoy!

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