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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://tinyurl.com/642wu3 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.

qrcodes

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 bigbank-newaccounts.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.