What's a QR Code?

See that thing at the right there? You've probably noticed these around, mainly on advertisements. It's called a QR code, and marketers want you to use your smartphone's camera to "read" it. Here's what you should know about them... and how to make your own!

QR (Quick Response) codes are a type of barcode - not unlike the vertically-lined ones on every product you buy - that provide information when read by a scanner equipped to interpret it. They were first used in the mid-90s by a Japanese car manufacturer as a way to keep track of parts, but marketers have begun using them as a fun way to encode and share additional information with consumers, beyond what they can squeeze into an advertisement. (The one shown here is Good Housekeeping's.)

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After downloading an app (I like QuickMark, but there are a ton of options out there), you use your smartphone's camera to capture the code. You'll then immediately be asked if you'd like to see whatever info the code indicates - it could be a prompt to go to a website URL or to send an e-mail (say, to enter a contest). Marketers are also using them to offer discounts and coupons - a reason it really pays to look for these on ads. Further, tech savvy companies are putting them on employees' business cards, so the contact info can be quickly read and imported into a recipient's cell phone's address book.

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To create your own, you can use a phone app (QuickMark does this), or go to a QR generator website, such as QRStuff.com or Qurify.com. Some ideas for what you might encode: your contact info, your Facebook profile page URL, or even a Google Map of your house (for a party invitation, for example). Once created, you can save the square code as an image file that you can share or paste wherever you see fit, or you can email or text it to your friends and family (phone apps can also interpret codes sent this way).

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Have you ever scanned a QR code? What do you think of them? And how would you use a self-created one? Please tell us in the comments below.

- By Amy Roberts

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Reprinted with Permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.