Why QR Codes Underachieve

A few weeks ago, Tobi Lutke, the founder and CEO of Shopify, tweeted a short but accurate assessment of the state of QR Codes today. It went like this:

“The west is still using QRCodes totally wrong. A QRCode on a restaurant table that opens the menu is not really what we want. A QRCode can be unique to the table and allow food ordering directly to it. Should carry state and context.”.

He hit the nail on the head. But like so many tweets, the brevity of the message left the universe begging for a further explanation of what he meant. As you might have guessed, I’m going to give it a try:

West versus East

The tweet starts out by calling out “the west” for misusing QR Codes. That’s a reference to how “the east” has been using QR Codes more broadly and purposefully for years. In Asia – most notably China – QR Codes have been used across many diverse applications. They’re placed on products to authenticate provenance and brand, they’re used for payment for goods and services, they are in advertising, job recruitment and are also used for identity and wellness verification.

Employing QR

Codes for applications like these require them to be ‘smarter’ than the QR Codes we see on things like restaurant menus and store signs today. They need to be secure, and often need to capture data about the scanner (who, what, where, when, etc…). They also need to be produced at scale. Think about producing a QR Code that dynamically represented an individual and their vaccine status. This QR would need to be integrated to a medical record system, its response would change dynamically according to someone’s changing vaccination status.

State

Implementing a QR Code where results can change dynamically start to hint at Tobi’s recommendation that QR Codes carry state. For example, if a QR Code carries a state of “unvaccinated”, then scanning an individual’s QR Code might direct a browser to a warning. Changing that state to “first dose” received might render an altogether different response if that same QR Code was scanned again.  You get the idea.

Codes like these are often called Dynamic QR Codes, which simply means that the result of scanning them can dynamically change based on an underlying attribute of what that code represents. Dynamic QR Codes are also trackable and can be edited whereas Static QR Codes – like the restaurant menu example – cannot be tracked and the destination/landing page cannot be changed.

Context

Lutke also paired Context with State in his wish for better codes.   Where State might represent something about the underlying thing a QR Code represents (e.g.: a bottle of rare whiskey), Context could represent something about the scan action itself.   Context could be something like:

  • The date and time the scan took place

  • The number of times the code has been scanned

  • The location and device from which the scan was made

Context can deliver valuable information to the maker of the QR Code and other stakeholders. In essence, Context adds another layer of value to Dynamic and Static QR Codes.

Openscreen and the Explosion of the Dynamic QR

We’re believers that QR Codes can be put to broader and better use in the “west”, so to speak. Across Health Care, Marketing, Authentication, Supply Chain and many other applications, Dynamic QR Codes can deliver secure, robust, and powerful digitization of the physical world. With our platform and developer tools, we are helping companies integrate this type of functionality into their mission-critical applications.

As for your tweet Toby, we wholeheartedly agree. Thanks for putting out the call to action and we hope you keep an eye on us as we set out to change the way QR Codes are used in everyday life.

Enhancing Agriculture with QR Codes

Some experts suggest that if we don’t figure out a way to improve agricultural output by 2050, this planet will have more people than it can feed. That’s a scary, but not completely unrealistic thought. In response to that, almost every aspect of farming and agriculture undergoing some level of transformation using technology. After all, our current and future generations may depend on it.

The Importance of Good Soil

I recently came across the Netflix documentary “Kiss the Ground”. It takes a multifaceted view of the importance of soil management to promote better food outcomes, optimize our use of resources, and decrease our carbon footprint.  Many of us know that soil can trap carbon dioxide emissions, but I was surprised to learn that healthier soil is must more effective at the task.  Technology has become an important tool in measuring and improving the quality of soil around the world.

Agronomists and Soil Collection

Agronomists, the professionals who practice in the science and management of agriculture, collect soil for quality testing. This practice is becoming more important as farmers aim to get more out of their land. Soil is collected, sent to a lab, and analyzed on a regular basis.  Resulting data can drive better seed prescriptions, fertilizer recommendations, and even generate valuable carbon credits for farmers. Yet, surprisingly, soil collection is a very manual process. Agronomists often use clipboards and paper to capture data when they head out to fields, leaving actual data entry to technicians who receive samples at the lab.

Openscreen, QR Codes, and Agriculture Technology

We see QR Codes as an effective way to automate the agronomist’s soil-collection lifecycle. From field to lab, serialized QR Codes can allow soil collectors to scan a bag at the point of collection. From there, important data like time and location can automatically be captured, while the QR Code can be programmed to bring the agronomist to a data collection app. Then, workflows in the app can track the bag every time it is scanned, as seed prescriptions are generated, and carbon credits are accumulated.

Openscreen’s powerful SDK provides an easy way to generate unique, trackable QR Codes at scale, which can be used to digitize agriculture technology. As manual tasks like soil collection become important elements of our food supply chain, leveraging contactless technology like QR Codes throughout the lifecycle can provide quality, assurance, speed, and advanced reporting for all stakeholders involved.

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