Over the past year or so there has been a lot of buzz about QR codes. Those square, raggedy things have captured a lot of attention and spawned a lot of questions: Are they just a fad? Will technology out grow them? Should we invest in them now? Will adding QR codes to exhibits or brochures remove people further from the resource we want them to experience? Does this new thing have a place in real interpretation?
Is walking a trail and reading interpretive text, seeing pictures and hearing audio via your smartphone a ‘real’ experience? Why walk the trail? Why not lie in bed, sleep late, stretch, fix a cup of coffee, then grab your smartphone and see a video of the sunrise that happened two hours ago? Hey – you saw it, the screen is almost 5-inches wide, and in color – you can even replay it!
A Quick Response code is a square barcode invented to track merchandise, but now you find them in all sorts of interesting places. Once you notice them you see them everywhere. They can store and present data including URL links, links to videos, U-tube, geo coordinates, or just text.
To read a QR code your smartphone needs a QR code app. I use a free one named i-nigma that I downloaded from the iTunes store. It works just fine. At the same time I downloaded a free reader for Microsoft Tag. A Tag is similar to a QR code, but Tags are in color and are said to do more things. There aren’t as many Tags out there as QRs. In fact, I may not have used the Tag reader a single time.
Activate your QR reader app and hold your phone’s camera over the QR code. The QR reader analyzes the code and sends the user to a landing page containing the content. And therein lies the rub. There are two parts here, the code and the landing page. The code is easy enough; it’s the landing page that so often cries out for an interpreter’s attention. Many just take you to the subject’s home website: BORING, uninspiring, and a sign of laziness. But, if you think like an interpreter you know there could be some very cool ways to use QR code technology to enhance your message, to go where you could never go before.
- Say you’re describing a historical dance or game and your usual photo and description are nice enough, but add a QR code that zips you to the sight and sound of the dance or game in progress and you really have something.
- In a nearby National Park a wayside exhibit describes the steps of firing a Civil War era cannon. Nice, but the QR code zipped me to re-enactors calling out the steps and firing the cannon – better than nice, gunpowder-blue smoke and all.
- A Trail of Tears wayside shows maps and discusses Indian Removal, but the QR code zips you to an interview with the chief – shift from OK to powerfully memorable.
- You’ve described an eagle stealing the fish from the osprey, then you zap the QR code and zip to a video of the eagle and osprey in midair conflict.
- At our Ozark Folk Center we describe the migration of instruments to the Ozarks. Via QR code, visitors can see and hear the instrument being played.
Yes, I think QR codes can enhance interpretation, and we should creatively and interpretively use them.
- For best effect they must take the visitor to specific landing location that continues and illustrates your story, not some general site. Each page of a website can have its own QR code, so you can select existing webpages that relate specifically to your story.
- Recognize that many people do not have smart phones, and many who have them don’t know what QR codes are. Be prepared to instruct them on how to download the app and how to use the code.
- If you see an occasional, strategically placed QR code, it is a novelty and you want to see what it has for you. If you see them everywhere, after the first two or three they become commonplace and lose their appeal.
- A caution for your thought: If you encourage the visitor to pull out a cell phone, he may be not put it away, and might be distracted and distract others throughout the trail or your program. Place and use QR codes strategically. We just completed 10 wayside panels along a trail for one park and wanted to direct the visitor to a website via QR code. We didn’t want the code on the first panel, thinking that might make visitors fiddle with their phones all along the trail. That worked out OK –the only location with cell access was at the end of the trail where we placed the final panel. Having enjoyed this trail, visitors can activate the QR code and be directed to a webpage showing other experiences they can enjoy in the park.
- Many parks don’t have cell coverage. Check to see that you have Internet access at the QR code location.
You can generate your own QR codes using a site like http://invx.com/. Simply type in your landing page’s URL and the code will be generated for you automatically.
Side note: QR codes are free (yes, I said FREE!).