A barcode sits on the cutting edge of technology

QR codes are popular in Europe and Asia. Now, we’re bringing them to Philadelphia.

On a window of Café Claude restaurant in San Francisco clings a sticker with a strange looking pixelated image.

Underneath the logo for an online lifestyle guide named Citysearch, the mismatch of black and white pixels would be better suited on a box of restaurant supplies that have just been scanned by a UPS employee never to be seen by the average customer.

However, it is the average customer the image targets. The pixilated image is a two-dimensional barcode, intended to be scanned by camera phones, smartphones and other Web-enabled mobile devices to provide the viewer with information.

The sticker has three simple instructions: 1) Text “SCAN” to 70734. 2) Download ScanLife and launch. 3) Scan code with camera.

ScanLife has the trend picking up on the West Coast. In a press release from March 2008, the company announced that more than 500 restaurants and businesses would be displaying these codes in the San Francisco area.

Like any new technology, 2D barcodes are still searching for a standard. The front-runner appears to be QR codes, which originated in Japan in 1994. Others include DataMatrix, Semacode, mCode and ShotCode. Regardless of shape, all the 2D barcodes are fundamentally the same.

“2D barcodes are a way to easily embed just about any kind of digital information within reason,” said Amy Webb, founder of Webbmedia Group, a company that consults online media companies and other organizations on how to use new technology.

Webb is trying to help make these barcodes more prevalent within the United States.

“It’s being used everywhere in Japan and in Europe quite a bit. Not as much in the U.S., but we tend to be pretty far behind in terms of the mobile market,” she said.

Like the barcodes themselves, code readers are still trying to find a standard. Many have Web sites with a list of compatible phones like NeoReader.com, i-nigma.com and kaywa.com. The iPhone has multiple applications for code readers, many of them offered for free.

Once a code reader is downloaded to a mobile device, scanning is very simple. The camera on the device reads the code, and some kind of action is performed. The code could redirect to a Web site or prompt a phone call.

“If you’ve got an iPhone or one of the newer Nokias, most of them have some kind of GPS in there. If I scan a code, I can get a coupon,” Webb said. “Once I scan that code, it’s possible for the merchant to add a couple extra lines of code to not only get a coupon but send directions to the store from where I am right now.”

Big media outlets in the United States haven’t picked up this technology – yet.

Webb likens QR codes’ place in technology to what Facebook was when it first emerged in February 2004. Now, news organizations like CNN and MSNBC have Facebook accounts, Twitter pages and multiple blogs.

“Nobody wants to hear about a new zippy technology until that thing becomes a competitor,” Webb said.

The Temple News will begin implementing QR codes in its print edition, teasing online. For instance, the QR code above will take you to temple-news.com/QR when scanned.

Also, businesses around campus will begin displaying QR codes in their storefront windows. Those codes can be scanned, and the user will be taken to each store’s unique Web site on The Temple News Web site.

Dave Isaac can be reached at isaac@temple.edu.

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