A QR code (short for Quick Response) is a two-dimensional barcode that stores information readable by mobile devices. They can store (and digitally present) data, including url links, links to videos, geo coordinates, or just text. It looks like this:
How does a smartphone read the QR code?
In order to work, a smartphone needs a QR code reader app. This reader app basically uses the smartphone’s camera to record the image, analyze the code, and send the user directly to the content encoded in the QR code (e.g. a URL).
How are museums, cities and sites using QR codes?
In the museum world QR codes are widely used to identify sites and to send the user to a specific page on a website without ever having to type the URL. Each site or object can have its own QR code. The visitor can point their device to the QR code and can access audio, video or text to learn more about the particular site.
It’s common practice for places who offer web-based tours to print out QR codes together with some information that a smartphone tour is available and place this information at the sales counter.
How do you get a QR code?
You can easily generate a QR code using a site like http://invx.com/. Simply type in your web url and the code will automatically be generated for you.
We just returned from the American Association of State & Local History annual conference in Richmond, VA. It was a fantastic time and we had the chance to brainstorm interpretive and mobile strategies with dozens of interesting historic sites and museums from around the country.
We’re proud of our friends at the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House – who won a Leadership in History Award for the app we produced with them. Here’s a quick interview with Chris Shires, Director of Interpretation & Programs:
Keep an eye out for the upcoming webcast we’ll be doing with Chris about their award-winning mobile project. Stay tuned!
Our friends over at The Underground Railroad Freedom Center launched a Mobile App with us this spring. They took to the halls of their museum to find out what their visitors thought. See for yourself:
The TourSphere Checkout System
I’m not going to complicate this for you. We’ve worked with museums with anywhere between 10 – 500 iPods. There are great things about having iPods onsite at your museum, but it comes at a cost (literally and figuratively).
In our experience, here are the pros and cons. I hope this helps you evaluate what’s right for your organization:
- Accessibility – Users without a smartphone or iPod Touch can still do your mobile tour.
- Connectivity – If you don’t have wifi or 3G access in your museum, onsite iPod Touches (loaded with your app) can provide a great experience for your visitors. Because the content lives natively on the device, you don’t need connectivity.
- Revenue – You can charge for the rental of a device or, as some of our clients do. One client even raised their admission price by $2 and now includes a “complimentary” iPod Touch rental with every admission – users stay longer, learn more and tell their friends about it.
- Cost – When you compare the cost of iPod Touches versus proprietary museum hardware, it usually compares very favorably, especially when you factor in maintenance costs and overall functionality of the device for the price (also known as “bang for the buck”).
- Theft – There are several ways to minimize the risk but this is still a risk. And as much as we hate to say it, theft from staff can be as worrisome as theft from visitors.
- Checkout Process/Staff Buy-in – If you’re switching from a more traditional audio guide system to an iPod Touch-based system, then it’s not a problem. However, if you’re going from no system to an iPod-based system, then this means more work for your front-line staff. Usually people aren’t thrilled with that.
- Maintenance – Hardware does this weird thing sometimes… it breaks. Even with the special optimizations we make for museum-based iPod Touches, devices still sometimes malfunction (their track record is great, but nothing is 100% perfect). We do try to help give you peace of mind by offering maintenance programs, but the basic point here is that, no matter what hardware system you choose, be prepared for the occasional headache.
- Cost – Even though this was listed as a “pro”, I’m going to also list it as a con. Why? Well, because no matter what, hardware still costs money. This is why we advocate, if you decide to use onsite devices, always starting with the minimum number you think you’ll need – and you can always order more later.