Since the last time I wrote about them, QR codes seem to be popping up everywhere. On the Web (where they contain contact information or download links), in print ads for books and radio stations, and a number of other places.
But what I found really interesting was that Madcap Flare 7 includes a feature for generating and publishing QR codes in a printed document which mobile devices can then scan to access searchable, interactive content on the Web.
Even before the release of Flare 7 I was trying to come up with some ideas and use case for technical communication around QR codes. What I came up with was:
- Pointing readers to a mobile version of a document
- A link to supplementary information on a wiki or a knowledge base
- Initiating an upgrade to an application or a document
- Purchasing something from the company that issued the documentation
What do QR codes contribute to the documentation?
And will the people reading the documentation actually use them?
To be honest, I can’t see myself whipping out my phone to scan a QR code in a printed manual. If the code is on screen or even in a printed document, it’s probably faster if there’s a URL there instead (either clickable or not). Using a QR code reader on a mobile device just adds a layer of complexity.
If, of course, someone does scan a QR code you need to make sure that the information in the code takes the person to a mobile-friendly site. If not, then the destination isn’t useful.
Something whose time has yet to come?
That said, it could be that while QR codes are ready for technical communication, technical communication isn’t quite reader for QR codes. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened, and it’s not just restricted to our wacky profession. What do I mean? Here’s an example:
At the company where I’m currently doing a contract, the marketing department adds QR codes to certain documents and press releases. But they’re finding that:
- Not many people are using them because they don’t have, or don’t want to download, a QR code reader for their mobile devices.
- Some people don’t know what QR codes are.
- The corporate Web site isn’t optimized for mobile; it’s not even close. And that’s caused a few problems.
But as mobile devices become even more of the norm, as more online content is tailored to those devices, and as QR codes enter the wider consciousness, will definitely become a valuable tool in technical communication. Right now, though, they’re just a very interesting idea.
Thoughts? As always, your comments are welcome.