QR: A quick response

Yesterday’s QR work­shop was use­ful with some inter­est­ing ideas. Andy Ramsden has a blog post with ideas about the oppor­tun­it­ies and bar­ri­ers to QR we came up with. Most use­ful to me were the examples of where QR will not work. I was plan­ning to throw them every­where and see what stuck. Richard Mobbs gave a few few good reas­ons why this could be a bad idea. His group also came up with some wor­ries about secur­ity. It’s a prob­lem twice over.

One is that any URL is going to work best if it’s encoded as simply as pos­sible. That means using URL-shortening ser­vices which raises issues of trust. Usually you don’t know where a tiny­url will lead. In the case of http://​tiny​url​.com/​6​4​2​wu3 it’s likely you do, which is why you won’t click the link. But on top of that the codes can be tampered with. This wouldn’t be by col­our­ing the blocks, but by repla­cing the codes completely.


One of these QR codes leads to a Leicester depart­mental web­site. The other is a Rickroll. Can you tell which is which just by looking?

It’s a prob­lem if you’re doing an advert for Big Bank, and put a code on the poster. Someone else with a rip-off web­site can register big​bank​-newac​counts​.com and paste over the QR code with their own equally anonym­ous code. All those credit card details would be phished away. Back in the days when people trus­ted banks this would have been a ser­i­ous con­cern. I like one step made to tackle this by Bath. They have their own URL short­en­ing ser­vice, go​.bath​.ac​.uk, which should make the codes used on their cam­pus rel­at­ively trust­worthy. If an non​-bath​.ac​.uk URL is scanned then maybe you’d be con­cerned. In the wild I’m not so sure what safe­guards there are.

Another good point made by Alan Cann is that it’s not the code tech­no­logy that’s the prob­lem. It’s hav­ing the mater­ial in place to link to. A lot of mobile phone screens are much tinier than an iPhone, which means a uni­ver­sity would have to have a coher­ent mobile learn­ing strategy. Some of that could be simple enough. He’s sug­ges­ted that CSS could be a first step. If you browse my site on iPhone or Android you should see it looks quite dif­fer­ent, yet the alter­a­tions were pain­less. It also means think­ing hard about video and audio in being able to deliver them in mobile-friendly chunks. Data-plans are not all free.

It’s not so much the codes, as this new atti­tude to mater­ial which could be as import­ant to the devel­op­ment of the mobile inter­net as access to the hard­ware. QR would then be part of the glue that links hard­ware to mobile con­tent and the real world to the internet.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.