Cultural QR codes in the Wild

image from: http://blogs.ukoln.ac.uk/cultural-heritage/2011/01/10/decoding-art/

Prompted by a comment by Mable from Aqueducks on an earlier blog post about QR codes I thought the use of QR codes in outside spaces deserved more of a dedicated post.  Mike Ellis’ recent post about QR codes discussed how they are becoming more apparent in the real world; they are in supermarkets, on public transport, in magazines and in museums.  But I haven’t really considered the use of QR codes in the wild, wet and windy real world of outside spaces. Below are three great examples of utilisng QR codes in outside spaces. I’m sure there are many many more.

Mable shared with me work she has been doing at Llangollen Canal in Chirk Bank  with using QR codes and blue tooth transmission direct to phones.  I particularly liked that they have been using Laminated QR codes as tea coasters for the ladies who do teas in the chapel hall for visitors, a brilliant idea to encourage visitors whilst they are enjoying a cup of tea to find out more information.

Mable also discussed the issues using the technology in Outdoor environments.  There is a tendency to have patchy mobile signal coverage to start with, which is the main reason why Aqueducks tried using bluetooth transmissions.

Both are affected by trees in leaf, and particularly wet trees in leaf, so that for example a blue tooth transmitter with a given range of 2 km, will not in practice give more than 100m or so, under damp summer conditions. The positives are that small laminated prints of the QR code are unobstrusive and do not need expensive panels and posts, and can be managed by our small community group with no facilities or much funding!  This sort of interpretation is relatively cheap so available for small groups.  The blue tooth transmitters allow one to target and change for specific events too.

I think Mable highlights very well the positive and negatives to using QR codes outdoors.  To be honest I hadn’t really considered the challenges to utilising QR codes in outdoor environments before.

Manchester Art Gallery have dabbled with a pilot project in 2010 using QR codes outdoors with their Decoding Art walking tour.   20 of the city’s public monuments where the artworks have had QR codes embedded into them.  The pilot project looked to provide information about the artworks instantly to mobile devices as “It’s very easy to walk past many of Manchester’s public monuments without ever spending time thinking about who or what they’re about and why they’re there.”

Once scanned the QR code links to both audio and written information about the monuments. Martin Grimes has written an excellent post about Manchester Art Galleries experiences or using QR codes outside over on the Ukoln blog. One of the issues Martin highlighted was the ongoing concerns around the fixing of the QR labels to the public monuments. Particularly listed monuments, lead to the use of temporary vinyl labels, which may not be as aesthetically pleasing but they convey the message well enough.

Spot the QR code & speech bubble

Another use of QR codes in the wild is how the Comics Grid uses them, in almost a guerrilla style. The Comic Grid wanted people to find their blog (which has a mobile version) through curiosity.  Ernesto Priego stated that he wanted to take the blog outside its comfort zone and viceversa, tagging public spaces, events, and academic conferences with the Comics Grid.  I really like the idea of guerrilla style QR codes, there is a sense of adventure to it.  The concept of taking the Comics Grid’s blog out of its comfort zone is a nice one; a QR code certainly does that by pulling the blog into the real world.

All three examples are utilising an interesting means of conveying virtual information in outside public places.  I particularly like that small community groups like Aqueducks are experimenting with QR codes as a cheap and relatively easy way of communicating information to visitors.

Cultural QR codes in the wild are really great idea in principle, but there does seem to be a lot of problems to overcome particularly with the practical constraints of affixing QR codes outside, as well as dealing with flaky mobile signals.  More experimenting to be done methinks.

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