How to Use Barcodes at Conferences (and Why You Might Want To)

eter Organisciak giving a talk entitled 'When to Ask For Help: Evaluating Projects For Crowdsourcing' at the 2011 meeting of the Digital Humanities conference.Audiences for oral presentations and poster sessions at academic conferences often want more information about a particular topic. One way to provide this, obviously, is to create printed flyers or brochures and hope that you’ve brought enough copies for everyone who’s interested. But what if your printed handout doesn’t make it all the way back on your audience member’s trip home?

During the 2011 Digital Humanities conference at Stanford University (currently underway) some people are making use of QR codes, a specific kind of two-dimensional bar code (also known as a matrix code).

For example, Peter Organisciak gave a talk entitled “When to Ask For Help: Evaluating Projects For Crowdsourcing,” and on one of his presentation slides–as you can see in the photo at the start of this post–he displayed this QR code:

An example of a QR Code.

Those of us in the audience with smartphone apps that can read (and interpret) QR codes were able to snap a picture using the camera and then visit the associated page online. (Those without such apps, by the way, could instead use the URL shortcut, also displayed on the slide.)

For our poster presentation–entitled “Applying Universal Design Principles to a Digital Humanities Project“– we also used a combination of QR code and shortened URL. Some people who came by our poster wrote down the URL (, and some of them used their smartphones in combination with the QR code.

I’ve also seen a few (but only a few!) other presentations and posters make use of such a visual code. I use a free and user-friendly iPhone app called Scan to read and interpret QR codes, but there are plenty of other apps to choose from for iOS devices as well as for Android and Blackberry smartphones.

If you’re interested in creating your own QR code, it’s not hard to find an online service that allows you to do that. I’ve found this one particularly easy, for example.

QR codes are not the only kind of matrix codes in use today. Other possibilities include SPARQCodes, Semacodes, and Microsoft Tags. However, I don’t have enough experience with the different options to be able to discuss their relative strengths and weaknesses.

How about you? Do you use matrix codes? What has your experience been like? Let us hear from you in the comments!

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