QR or Quick Response codes, like the one pictured to the left in Times Square, are 2-D bar codes readable by smartphones and other cell phones with cameras. The code can be linked so that when mobile phone users snap a picture of the code they are brought directly to the intended URL, video, image, or text. By integrating both the camera and web capabilities of mobile phones, QR codes mark a "new" mobile technology.
While QR codes are still working there way into the American mainstream, they have already been utilized in some unique ways. The first major use of QR codes have been for advertising and commercial uses. Some magazines have begun placing QR codes in advertisements (e.g. Elle magazine) to promote ad sales. Advertisers see this codes embedded in ads as a direct link to their website and thus an added opportunity to reach their targets. Billboards like those in NYC use the same concept.
QR codes have also been utilized for their ability to link to content unavailable anywhere else. For example, powerpop band We The Kings worked closely with Microsoft Tags (Microsofts version of QR codes) to offer tickets and unique music downloads to their fans both online and through codes handed out at concerts. I think that this use of QR codes holds the most potential for guerilla marketing and social organization.
They can also be used for more formal grassroots political and social movements such as Women of the Storm's use of QR codes to organize support around restoring the Gulf after the BP oil spill.
One of the latest uses of QR codes comes from Mogotix who has used the mobile technology to replace physical event tickets. Instead of carrying (and perhaps losing) the paper tickets, Mogotix send people who buy tickets a SMS version of their ticket that can then be scanned at the event in lieu of a physical ticket.
This technology obviously has the limitation of only being available to compatible mobile phone users, but I believe that the ubiquity of smartphones and mobile phones with cameras means that QR codes are the way of the future. QR codes future will rely on the trend of users switching to camera-equipped phones. I have no doubt that soon enough even my parents and grandparents will have to surrender their first-generation cell phones and upgrade to a camera-equipped phone or a smartphone.