The more data you encode in a QR Code, the more complex the code becomes, making it potentially difficult for lower spec’d cameras to decode. You can make your QR Codes simpler by using a url shortening service like Google’s service.

In this video I look at Google’s URL shortening service, and the Google Chrome URL Shortener extension. Another bonus of using the service is that by adding a .qr extension onto the end of any address it also automatically creates a QR Code. If you’re not a Chrome user, you can still use the service by using a bookmarklet or firefox extension. As an alternative, I also look at a QR Code Generator with built-in URL shortening service from Delivr.

Why I use a shortening service

When I first started using QR Codes a couple of years ago I would cram in a lot of information when generating my own codes. This lead to quite complex QR Codes. The camera on my phone had no problem decoding them, but after running a couple of workshops I realised it was proving problematic for lower resolution and lower spec’d cameras without autofocus or with long minimum focusing distances to read the QR Codes. Of course, you could always make the QR Codes larger. Kaywa suggest a minimum print size of 32mm x 32mm. If you’re interested in the gory technical details, Denso-Wave, the creators of QR Codes, have the specifications here.

For me, I want to make my QR Codes as accessible as possible, so now I make sure the information encoded is as short as possible. Rather than giving out my full contact details on a QR Code, I just encode my blog URL which has my contact details there. My blog address is rather long so I use a url shortening service to make the QR Code as simple and useable as possible. If (rarely now) my QR Codes contain a lot of text I just make sure the QR Codes are extra large.

Using QR Codes institution wide

If you’re considering implementing the use of QR Codes across your institution, and in terms of sustainability (what would happen if the third party shortening service you used folded?) and authenticity (users may be more inclined to use URLs created by a trusted institutional shortening service than a third party one), it may be worth implementing your own URL shortening service and QR Code generator. It’s pretty straightforward to do. Just purchase a short domain name and implement a url shortening script. Here’s a list of 10 free scripts to get you started. You could also, optionally, record tracking stats such as IP address and user- agent. And finally, write your own QR Code generator using Google’s Chart API.