QR codes are all around us these days (if you haven’t noticed, just start looking). There is a single standard on the QR code format itself (placement of dots), but there are many data format standards in what a QR code can encode, including contact info, URLs, binary data, and more. Thankfully there are standard contact card QR codes that store name, email, website, address, etc which, when scanned with a typical mobile app, can be saved directly to one’s phone’s contacts. Here’s how to make the most effective contact QR code.
vCard vs MeCard
There are two common ways of encoding contact information, vCard and MeCard. Both are plain text containers for general contact info. vCard has been around since about 1995 and commonly used between mail systems. It is generally more flexible and verbose. MeCard was created (as far as I can tell) to simplify the vCard format into more basic elements, for use in specific typical mobile uses such as QR Codes. Every QR Code scanner app I’ve seen is capable of reading both (got an iPhone? try Scan).
Why would I care? Well the more simple the QR code, the easier and faster it is for a reader to scan. Imagine putting a QR Code printed and taped to the back of your phone (what I do), a simple code is going to be easier to share and can be made smaller. Use MeCard when possible.
Below are two QR codes with essentially the same contact data. You can see the 1st QR code in vCard is more complex than the 2nd MeCard code. Less meta-data is required to encode essentially the same contact info using MeCard over the first vCard format. vCard lets you specify more fields, but if you’re going for basic info, use MeCard.
Making the QR Code
There are a lot of QR code generating websites out there. I haven’t found one I’m really happy with. Most have some hick up, like forcing you to enter certain fields you may not want, adding meta data for empty fields, labeling the fields incorrectly, etc. I even made the mistake of thinking I found a good site, made a code, ordering some Moo MiniCards with the code, and the QR generator had flipped my first and last name. So here’s how to make exactly the card you want.
- Create your contact code in the format desired
- Plug into the Google Charts API to translate it into a QR code
See the full specification of fields here. Here is mine as an example.
ADR;HOME:;;1419 Comanche;Allen;TX;75013;United States
See this great post on the format of MeCard. Not only is the MeCard format more simple, but you can simplify the data itself, leaving off some formatting.
MECARD:N:Noah Coad;TEL:4258028842;EMAIL:email@example.com;ADR:1419 Comanche,Allen,TX,75013,;URL:coad.net;
Google Chart API
Take the code above. For the vCard, you’d need to replace the carriage returns with %0A. Then just plug into the Google Chart Infographics API URL format. Try playing with the resolution setting, which goes up to 500×500. Here are the URLs for the above codes.
vCard: http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=qr&chs=200×200&chld=L|0&chl=BEGIN:VCARD%0AVERSION:2.1%0AN:Coad;Noah%0AFN:Noah Coad%0AADR;HOME:;;1419 Comanche;Allen;TX;75013;%0ATEL;CELL;PREF:425-802-8842%0AEMAIL:firstname.lastname@example.org%0AURL:http://coad.net%0AEND:VCARD
- Using the code: Here are some ideas…
- Put the image in your phone’s photos library. Then at get-togethers you can just pull it up and someone can use their phone to scan from yours.
- Print the code and use clear masking tape over it to fix and laminate to the back of your phone, wallet, drivers license, etc. Sometimes phones have a hard time scanning off a backlight LCD screen like your phone’s photo gallery, so printing it helps. I create a big version, copy/paste into Microsoft Word a bunch of times, resize each image a little smaller than the previous, print, then cut out the size I want.
- Put on your business cards, business flyers, etc.
- URLs: You can of course use a QR Code for a URL instead, like to your home page or about.me page, just start the data part with http://, like this: http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=qr&chs=200×200&chld=L|0&chl=http://coad.net
- More Encodings: there are many more standard data formats for QR codes, check some of them out