Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What happened to the QR codes in the Freeman?

Late last year, I began experimenting with quick response (QR) codes in the print edition of the Daily Freeman.

I created a Likify code and placed it at the bottom of the front page. I stayed there for a month. After gathering eight 'Likes' for our Facebook page, I decided to discontinue its run, at least on the front page, as it was using too much coveted 'real estate,' as we say in the biz (because, apparently, we want to be Realtors or something).

That was strike one for the code. I believe that if it was placed somewhere more permanently - like a flier or at distribution boxes around town, it couldn't hurt to have them (since it doesn't cost anything to maintain them, so there's no loss).

What worked against it was the fact that, most likely, you had to download a QR reader and then scan the thing to be send to a page to click the like button and then have to login to your Facebook account on your phone's browser, which probably looks like crap, because it doesn't work with Facebook apps. So instead of making it easier, it seemed to make it even more complicated for early users. My hat's off to those eight we went through it.

If you want to go through this yourself, here's a quick way of doing this.

Visit Likify.net, create an account, click on My Items and then Generate Code.

Enter the Facebook page you like your users to like, the title of your page, your site's URL and upload an image. You can download the large version but I've found that the codes work at 1-by-1-inch.

That's pretty much it. The site keeps stats on how many people saw the screen (above, right) and how many clicked on the 'Like' button.

I even created a video using Xtranormal to promote it.

I also had a little Livestream video explaining the whole thing:

Watch live streaming video from dailyfreeman at livestream.com

I'm putting this on hiatus until it becomes easier to do — namely this: scan something and get an automatic 'Like,' which was my (overly optimistic) initial goal.

Also, Xtranormal is no longer free.


After doing the Likify experiment I decided to use Quick Response codes to allow people to watch our Life videos right on their phones by simply scanning the paper. This actually seems to have worked better, as it was easier to use. Let me show you from another video I shot.

I had to post the videos on YouTube, however, because Flash won’t play on Blackberries or iPhones (our Freeman videos are Flash-based).

To top this, there is the hard reality. YouTube stats showed 134 views via mobile devices for seven videos with QR codes, for a total of 32 unique visitors overall. This included my test views and visits. Hardly a success. And even though there is potential and it might have grown in audience as people become more mobile-friendly, I felt that having the videos on YouTube didn't help our own container for videos.

I’m hoping HTML-5 will solve this or that we get a better platform for our videos that is Flash-free. Regardless, after a month, I decided to also put this feature on hiatus, until the technology catches up with what I want to do, namely, point your phone to the paper (a photo, maybe, QR-less) and then the video will play in your phone.

I know, I want too much.

If you are wondering how I did this, here's a quick tutorial:

I found and open-source (read: free) QR code generator by googling 'QR code generator (I know, rocket science). ZXing seemed to be the best.

Zxing allows you to create a QR code for pretty much anything, URLs, calendar events, your contact info, e-mail, etc. I worked mainly with URLs for the YouTube videos we had uploaded.

Say you want to create a text QR code. Simply type your text and click generate with the size you want (small is OK for print, as I've tested this many times).

Then you can simply download the image or use the link for it provided below it. Here's the one I just created.

So for a YouTube video, I simply put the video URL (that's the stuff on the navigation bar with the "http://www.youtube.com/yakyakyakyakyakyak") and created a QR code like that.

Most phones have a YouTube app, so when the code is scanned, phones prompt users if they want to open the link on a browser or using the app. Whatever was the case, such video-QRs work fine.

When December rolled by, I figured we could use the QR feature for our popular Holiday Lights tour, a massive and awesome project that cheerfully sucks the life and time out of this life editor.

I did the same thing. After creating the map, I simply visited Zxing and pasted the Google map URL into the QR creator. I downloaded the image, and then I tested it.

I was at this stage when something incredible happened. Using the Android, um, Incredible, I scanned the code (I use the Barcode reader app), and the phone asked me if I wanted to open the URL on a browser or in the Google Maps app. I chose Google Maps (and clicked on the option so the phone would remember this in the future).

Then it asked me if I wanted to use Navigation. After hitting yes, the phone began speaking to me. Think your GPS navigator, but free, and after scanning your newspaper.

I went bonkers.

I quickly made a video and pretended that the whole Navigation thing was totally what I wanted to do in the first place, and to make it look very easy to use and very complicated to develop, even though all I've done was the same thing I was doing before.

Thus I've created the Two-Click Philosophy, which is, mainly developing things in ridiculously easy ways and make it look so hard to develop that your bosses will think you need a raise because you are such a smarty pants person. I'll walk you through more examples of this philosophy in the near future, so I can later write a book about it and become a consultant or something, because, apparently, that's what people do. I'm also claiming the hashtag #twoclickphilosophy on the Twitters thingy.

The feature was a success and, as always, it got a lot of hits and people were very thankful for it and enjoyed it very much, which you better because it's a lot of work. But, using Omniture's Adobe SiteCatalyst, which keeps metrics for us, I couldn't figure out a way to get numbers from the QR alone.

All in all, I'm pretty sure that by year's end, something even better will pop up for mobile videos, maps and other interactive features (we're actually talking with Tackable about a partnership). So the future is bright, and those who want to experiment with QR codes might get a lesson from what I've learned, which is, mainly, that it's pretty easy to create stick man figures punching web images.

UPDATE: I was brought to my attention yesterday by Andy Stettler that when you create an account with bit.ly, the URL shortener creates a QR code and keeps stats for you.