Blog Post

QR (Quick Response) Codes?

On the Cultural Studies list serve today, Glen Fuller asked a questionabout QR (Quick Response) codes and I said I'd post it to the HASTACsite and see if he got any responses from our readers. Feel free touse the comment box below this posting for anything yo want to say toour friend in Australia


Hi Cultural Studies list and, now, HASTAC'rs)--


was discussing commodity fetishism with a class a week or so ago and presented what I thought was simply a thought experiment about being able to access information about labour practices of companies by scanning barcodes with a mobile phone to access a database on the company, etc. One of my students pointed out her phone scans barcodes and so I have been reading various sites and forums about this relatively new technology (which isn't new at all in Japan, btw!!).

I was wondering if there have been any attempts to use QR (quick response) codes for, firstly, subverting purely commercial-advertising purposes and, secondly, providing critical information in the form of labour relation practices and like by companies? Any colleagues/activists in Japan looking into this?

The closest thing I have found so far in my googling are two reports about accessing food information through QR codes:
"In the supermarket, consumers use camera equipped cell phones to scan the QR code on the label. The code links to a mobile website detailing origin, soil composition, organic fertilizer content percentage (as opposed to chemical), use of pesticides and herbicides and even the name of the farm it was grown on. Consumers can also access the same information over the Ibaraki Agricultural Produce Net website by inputting a numbered code on each label."

And this brief report from DoMoCo that outlines how QR codes have been used in an educational capacity for learning about the nutritional requirements:
"After learning about daily food requirements and nutritional balance through lectures and quizzes, parents and children formed pairs to participate in a rally-style quiz on vegetables using mobile phones. Children used their handsets to read the QR code (a "Quick Response" barcode used on consumer products in Japan) affixed to vegetables, and then communicate with their parents to answer the quiz questions displayed on the handset screen. The trial pointed to the potential of mobile phones to serve as learning tools that can be used anywhere at any time."

As most phones nowadays can have many gb SD cards, a downloadable wiki-based database of critical consumer information seems possible. I have no idea about the technical dimensions of the various phone software platforms, etc. My understanding is that developers should be able to produce such software for a variety of phones.

Glen Fuller



Thanks to Flickr community members Superlocal and 5-Volt for posting these images (which you can click on for more images and for full documentation).



I heard from Roger Smolski, UK, who edits an online magazine at It's very interesting and I've encouraged him to blog about his work on this site sometime.


Glen Fuller writes:


"Here are some results from links and ideas various people have sent
from my email and blog post:"

David Silver let me know about Microsoft's endeavour to produce a Windows
Mobile Media (WMM) based application for scanning barcodes with mobile
devices and sending phones to urls, the Advance User Resource Annotation
System (AURA).

Senior Research Sociologist leading the Community Technologies Group, Marc
Smith, on the system

An interview with him on CNET:

Paper by Smith:

A video where he explains the logic behind the system:

As the above video attests 'bringing people together' means bringing
'consumers together', but because of the capacity to collectively annotate
any barcode, it doesn't just have to be 'consumers'

A paper on a field test of the system:

The AURA software client (I am not sure what this will do as I don't have a
WMM device):

Here is a forum post by someone who explores how to actually use AURA as
part of the test beta:

Beyond the Microsoft horizon there are many other interesting devices and
systems that had been developed.

I found this free barcode reader for various mobile phones:

There was also the Cuecat system (and fiasco!):

Bryan Behrenshausen pointed me in the direction of
which seems to be a group of Nordic researchers investigating the design
potential of RFID systems. Bryan writes "I like the Touch project because
it's run by a collective with such varied backgrounds -- computer science,
sociology, anthropology, design, communication studies, etc. Consequently,
the project can examine the history of touch, embodied practice, design
directions, and social consequences of/for these new technologies."

He also pointed me towards the Barcode Battler, which is not a post-human
rearticulation of the aspirational Australian lumpen proletariat, but a game
that involved collecting bar-coded playing cards and using this proprietary
reader to 'battle' (like a precursor to Pok?n or something)

Machine readable codes have a long history. Ted Striphas sent me an article
of his on the function and history of code-based ISBN technology in the
'back office' of the publishing industry. He observes that the gradual
introduction of the machine-readable coding technologies intensified the
productivity (or, in Marxist terminology, increased the production of
surplus-value) of logistics workers in the mega-bookseller companies such as It transformed the character of the industry from one that was
slow and full of logistical redundancies to one that was streamlined by
databases. The barcode becomes a literal representation of the exploitation
of workers in an intensified Taylorist enterprise where workers are
continually assessed by overseers for efficiency in the rate of logistical
processing and dispatch. Ref: Ted Striphas "Cracking the Code: Technology,
Historiography, and the "Back Office" of Mass Culture" Social Epistemology
Vol. 19, Nos. 2-3, April-September 2005, pp. 261-282