Why Jon Barocas Doesn’t Understand QR Codes

17 Feb

Mashable ran a piece yesterday by Jon Barocas titled: Why QR Codes Won’t Last. I am not going to argue that QR Codes are going to last, but I will argue that Jon Barocas is blinded by his professions inability to be creative and do anything innovative. Marketers have abused QR Codes. They have turned a potentially useful tool in to nothing more than a URL to their lame website. They also misunderstand what we want from them and from QR Codes. Until marketers stop applying new technology in old ways, QR Codes in marketing is doomed for sure. But for the rest of us, they offer a an innovated way to share information.

Jon starts by saying only 5% of Americans have scanned a QR Code and that this is a problem. 5% is 14 million people. That’s a large number people. But for marketing, they need more scans.  He attributes the low number of people scanning QR Codes to the fact that people “are visual animals..” and that “…a more visual alternative to QR codes would not only be preferable to consumers, but would most likely stimulate more positive responses to their presence. ” A QR Code dropped in to an advertisement in a magazine does not tempt me to scan it. Jon is right about this. But what he is missing, is that when I am reading a magazine, your ad may grab my attention for two seconds, but I am not interested in your product at the moment. I will not put down my magazine and go to your website. I am enjoying my magazine, which your ads are interfering with. Let’s be honest, I am probably reading this magazine in my library – and by library I mean bathroom. I may not even be reading a print copy of your magazine. If I am reading it on my phone or iPad, what am I going to scan your code with?

QR Codes can do much more than take me to your website to buy stuff. Look at any of my past posts to see a QR code link to building models, real time maps, and databases. Do something interesting. I am walking around with a dual core processor and an internet connection in my pocket. If you can only send me to a website to buy cargo pants, you have lost me. You have bored me. You are applying a new technology to your old, tired, marketing methods.

Jon has a solution that will replace QR Codes – MVS (mobile visual search). Yay! I can scan a company logo and it will take me to their website to buy stuff. Because as a human of normal intelligence, I clearly don’t know that mcdonalds.com , walmart.com, dove.com will take me to their sites. URLs are so hard to figure out. Jon, I know how to get to your site. It is not why I would want to scan a QR Code. And I am not scanning your logo to take me there either.

Jon ends by telling you how QR Codes will infect your phone with a horrible virus or a trojan. MVS is much safer, because hackers and malware writers don’t write for MVS….Yet, Jon. Modifying your logo slightly may be all I need to make your MVS as dangerous as a QR Code. Jon is right. QR Codes can be a bit dangerous. Ever used a URL shortener? Bit.ly anyone? These shortened URLs can do exactly the same thing. Who knows where you are clicking. The internet is a dangerous place but I am not giving up on it.

I don’t know what the future of QR Codes will be. But I can tell you that marketers and social media consultants and new media guru seo optimizers and whatever these people decide to call themselves nowadays say, they are missing the boat. Stop forcing your old ways on new technology. Think of new ways to go with new technology. Do something creative. Wow me. But don’t say the sky is falling because nobody is scanning a QR Code to buy garbage from your online store.


It has bothered me that I didn’t include the most obvious response to the dangers of scanning a QR Code. Depending on the application you use – I use RedLaser – it tells you where you are going and asks if you want to go!

Here is a QR Code to http://A-Virus-And-Trojan.com  <—not a real website.


When I scan this QR Code, my app tells me exactly where I am going.

And there you have it. A few simple lines of code that prompt the user to   accept the redirect. Security risk averted.


7 Responses to “Why Jon Barocas Doesn’t Understand QR Codes”

  1. Jon Barocas February 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    If you had done your research, you would have known that for the past 4 years my companies have offered QR codes in addition to bar codes and now mobile visual search. The reality is, we have seen a shift. My perspective is hands on from a tech marketing company seeing the lack of use of QR from education to ease. There is no real ROI with QR and that is all that matters to business. As far as security, again, do your research. Eastern Europe and Eurasia are dealing first hand with malicious embedding in fake QR campaigns. These Trojans offer discount coupons or product give-a-ways through QR. Once in your phone the user is unaware that all personal information, credit cards, bank accounts, contacts are breached. Additionally, the Trojan can bill you monthly for SMS without your knowledge. MVS allows you to snap a picture of a product on a store shelf and get instant discounts, place in your cart, video info, ingredients….. Is this, as you say “Stop forcing your old ways on new technology’ or is the ease of MVS the future and you are living in the past, forcing QR as your marketing solution. Open your mind to the reality of technology. The future is going to knock the wind out of you.

    • paulcrickard February 17, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

      Thanks for your comment. But you said almost nothing that I didn’t already say. I would not use a QR Code in marketing. Like I said, nobody wants to scan a code in a magazine. I get it. It doesn’t work. But I don’t care about marketing. Your article was titled: Why QR Codes Won’t Last. If you are saying that because QR Codes can’t be effective in marketing they are doomed to failure, I think you are mistaken. But, I am not going to, and did not, argue that they are the end all and be all. Just that not working in marketing is not going to result in their demise. Maybe your article title needed to be: Why QR Codes Won’t Last in Marketing.

      As for the security point, I agreed with you 100%. Who knows where you are being directed. But guess what, as I said, the same holds true for clicking shortened URLs which show up all over Twitter. People click. There is a network of trust. I trust the people I follow on Twitter to not direct me to a trojan. I also trust that if I scan a code on a product or in a magazine for Dove soap, Dove did not direct me to a trojan. The internet is not a safe place. We take risks. And we build security applications to help minimize that risk. As phones become targets for hackers, do you not think that more security and sandboxing of apps will be built in?

      I understand your company is involved in MVS. Are you going to argue that MVS is unhackable? That I could not modify a few pixels in a logo to redirect a user without their knowledge? If it is connected to the internet, it is hackable. I do not know the intricacies of MVS but lets assume that you have a camera scanning pixels in an image and it matches those pixels to an image in a database so it knows where to redirect the user who scanned it. Sounds like how it would work, right? Depending on the sensitivity, how many pixels would I need to change to make a logo distinct? See where I am going. Change a picture just enough that a person doesn’t notice with their eyes, but the computer does because its reading RGB values in a matrices. Now I direct you where I want you to go and you think that Sony just screwed you. You trusted them.

      Here is where you start to make me worry. Who controls the database that holds the unique logo identifier and the entry for where to redirect on scan? You? Your company? QR Codes are open source. They will always be able to be hacked and software can always be built to make them work.

      The future is bright. We are in different positions and thus have different visions of what we want it to look like. I am not in the business of marketing companies. I work towards open and free. I have no interest in how Old Navy convinces me to buy cargo pants and I would never scan a code to save 25% off Downy Fabric Softener. I will embrace technologies for my uses and we, the people, the masses, will hack the city. The use of technology to sell products bores me.

      We both agree QR Codes do not work in marketing. This matters to you. I could care less. I find most marketing to be completely lame. But who knows, maybe you guys are so good, I subliminally fall for everything you push on me.

      We both agree they have security risks. I think the internet is a giant security risk, it is the most dangerous neighborhood in the world. But we differ in how we deal with that.

      But by arguing that QR Codes won’t last because they fail in marketing, you prove me correct – Jon Barocas doesn’t understand QR Codes. If you pushed the security issue harder, you would have had a strong argument. And if you didn’t push for a alternative that your company is working on.

  2. storybizteller February 17, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    Thanks for a great post Paul! I am so tired of hearing about the death of QR Codes. It reminds me of the people in the mid nineties who were saying the Internet was a fad just because web sites were ugly and didn’t do anything interesting. Like you said, we just have to do more interesting things with them.

  3. scannaustralia February 22, 2012 at 2:09 am #

    Interesting debate! As a publisher of local print directories and newspapers in Australia I think the decision about QR Codes will come from readers and businesses who can offer an easy way for smart phone users to get what they want or need by just conducting a scan. There is an old saying never underestimate peoples self interest – you just need to provide a reason to scan.

  4. kery anita balucha March 13, 2012 at 2:54 am #

    Hi friends, its impressive post about teachingand fully explained, keep it up all the time.

  5. Michael Hraba May 4, 2012 at 6:34 am #

    Barocas is an unethical shill. Barocas did the QR code hit piece 3 weeks after investing in tech he lauds in article…. http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/point-and-shoot-mobile-commerce-provider-mobile-acuity-secures-funding-144600775.html

    *FULL DISCLOSURE* (something Barocas knows nothing about) – I have no commitment or involvement with QR codes in any tangible way. I have used them in hotels, but I have no interest… unlike Barocas.

    See that press release, and you will see how he will now be synonomous with unethical, shifty, scheming…. and just like most marketers…. well…

    Bill Hicks had some tough words for marketers like him, but really… I will let people find those bits of advice on their own.

    I am appalled. At Mashable mostly, because a slimy guy like Barocas doesn’t have enough self awareness to care…… I am really, really appalled at this guy.

    Anyways, people scanning random QR codes they can’t be sure to trust is just like going to websites you aren’t sure about, or sleeping with the skeezy girl at the bar. Scanning a random QR code is like russian roulette, and anyone that knows how to scan a code already knows that.

  6. Michael Hraba May 4, 2012 at 6:35 am #

    Reading Barocas’ response here too… he is OBVIOUSLY shilling for a technology he invested in, and he finds QR codes the competition. I am utterly disgusted.

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