QR-Tours: ideas and limitations

I’m currently involved in a project where small local museums and heritage organizations gets help and support for projects that they have young adults working on over the summer. One of these local museums is considering making a QR-tour, but in difference to most cases of QR code usage in museums, they plan on putting it up outdoors and along hiking trail close by. They asked me about my ideas concerning the project and after talking to them a bit about the project, I soon realized there were a number of things that had not been considered.

With my background most can probably guess that I’m generally quite pro combining technology and heritage. But I want it done right so that the technology can in function as an aid and something that provides possibilities rather than limitations.

The pro with the QR code tour in this case was partly financial reasons. Setting up a QR-tour would be cheaper and less to manage over time compared to investing in audio guides. Secondly the QR tour was considered a something ”new” and ”exciting” and something this small, local museum considered could work as a marketing point. They also considered a QR-tour being simple to set up and not much to manage as they would not need to bother with the hardware.

The points I brought up that I thought may pose problematic were:

1, The tour was to be placed outside along hiking trail in the Swedish countryside. The museum mainly wanted the QR codes to link to audiofiles but considering that the cell phone reception is quite poor, hardly in existence at some places, streaming audio files would probably just be wishful thinking. Instead I find that a light website would be a better option, something that could load somewhat fast, even on slow GPRS data connection.

2, In an indoor environment or at least if one was close to an environment, one can always set up a Wi-Fi network for the visitors to use but as this tour would be a long hiking trail stretching quite far away from the museum, and on a tight budget, it would not be possible. Instead the visitors would be dependent on data on their mobiles. Though many swedes with smartphones does have a dataplans, all do not and the international guests would probably not want to use data on their phones due to the international roaming costs.

3, While QR-tours may remove the direct need investing in hardware as people would use their own smartphones, it does exclude a lot of people who do not have access to their own smartphones, or who do not want to pay for the data costs. In this specific context it would hardly work to offer a couple of hardware devices because of the risk of theft, as they would be used outside of the museum building.

4, As the QR-tour would be used outside in the countryside, the placing of the QR codes would need to be taken into account on several different levels. The codes should be placed in a good spot where the environment around it fits the content of the file the QR code links to. As the tour is based on mobile data one also got to find a spot with the best possible reception with the most possible providers. To make that possible, one would need to run around with a few different phones with different providers and test manually.

5, Once the QR codes are in place and connected to the files one also have to take into consideration that all people do not automatically know how it works. Training the staff on how the tour works and what it contains as well as prepare them for all sorts of questions is essential. One also have to keep in mind that QR-code apps are available on huge number of phones and staff should be able to help people whether they’re using an HTC android phone or an Apple iPhone. It may also be necessary to teach how to use app stores in the various systems, so that staff can help visitors to download QR reader apps as well.

6, Once the QR tour is in place, files are connected to it, people are trained to show how it’s used it doesn’t mean that there’s no maintaining it. These days unfortunately smartphones are never safe and there have been reported cases where people have replaced original QR codes with new ones linking to corrupt files or other sites then the ones intended. From what I’ve seen there have not been that many cases reported, but it may still be something to take into consideration and the QR codes should in any case be checked so that they are in good shape and usable.

These are just a few things are considered in this specific QR-tour case. Obviously it doesn’t mean it cannot be done and that it’s not a good idea. What I tried to clarify in this post is that there are a lot of things to take into consideration even if it may seem simple and straightforward. I’m sure you can come up with even more points to take into consideration and please let me know and share your ideas.