This blog post is devoted to the lowly Quick Response code, or QRCode for short. Essentially a 2-dimensional bar code that has exploded in popularity in recent years because it can encode substantially more data than the barcode of yesteryear and can be scanned with most cell phone cameras in a variety of conditions. It also has loss protection in that the image can be degraded, partially destroyed or otherwise altered and information can still be read, making it the hardy choice for physical placement.

The QRCode was originally invented for high speed scanning of automotive equipment, but over the years its versatility has lent itself to a wide range of consumer applications. Adding a scan-able URL to a print advertisement is an easy way to get commuters to visit your website or install a mobile application.

The type of interactions you could historically have with a QRCode were limited. You could trigger events on scanning, but there was no way to do inline authorization, identity, or payment. Bitcoin has changed all of that. Now by encoding a unique address into a QRCode you can accept irreversible payment in any physical location, and you can use that payment to spawn actions in the real world, authenticate users, or provide instant access to merchandise. This ability to have an open and inline payment mechanism is potentially transformative.

Last week Tampa Bay Wave hosted a funding drive for local area charities. As part of that drive they had a Ustreamed event speaking with various board members and activists about their experiences around non-profit activities in the region. Noticeably lacking was a sign with a QRCode on it. A simple sign would have allowed them to take digital currency donations over UStream. A college student recently racked up over $24,000 USD in online donations after showcasing a QRCode on a sign during an ESPN telecasted event. Direct transmission of value over the TV, without any intermediaries, extraordinarily low fees and a high degree of anonymity. The same technique could just as easily be adapted to Youtube or any streaming video service for soliciting donations or voting on choices for future episodes.

In addition to almost nonexistent fees, the human labor costs are substantially lower also. As the technology proliferates will we need banks of telephone operators accepting calls in order to enter credit card information and other manual processing tasks? When are we going to start seeing PBS or another channel heavily invested in funding drives utilize this technology to provide another instant revenue stream? It seems that anything that reduces the cost to acquire funding is just money in the bank, is that enough to spur adoption?

What about the rise of in-game payments? If I want to unlock that hidden door, or purchase an item upgrade, why not integrate it into the fabric of the game itself? Bypass the network to provide additional in-game content by allowing players to scan QRCodes generated by the game. This would let content publishers offer direct consumer payment without using big content networks or paying middlemen, an appealing proposition for some.

That only begins to scratch the surface of what is possible. Payment can trigger events in the real world also, like dispensing that can of coke, turning on the valve for the beer tap, and initiating point-of-sale transactions. This bridging of out-of-band transactions with the real world can inexpensively add payment to a wide variety of activities without the overhead of point-of-sale architecture. My CoinCollectr project was based on the premise that if you can build an extremely low-cost point-of-sale (POS) you can do an end-run around the expensive entrenched infrastructure we have today. If there is interest in those technologies maybe someone can convince me to Kickstart it. That same technology can be applied to a dizzying array of use cases in developed and developing economies.

Finally, not only can you trigger an action but potentially you can convey information about who you are with that action. This has applications in physical and virtual access control, micro-payments for unlocking online services and providing 2-factor out-of-band authorization for banking and other services. Thats a lot of power for a 2D barcode. Don’t underestimate the numerous ways you can integrate this technology, or the transformative nature of being able to respond to payments in a programmable and real-time way.