In 1994, a Japanese company, Denso Corporation’s Denso Wave division, developed the first QR codes. The company was using the codes to monitor cars on an assembly line, and later made the specifications for QR codes publicly available so that the usage of these codes might become widespread.
QR codes were initially designed to address the limitations of the barcode. Instead of the 20 alphanumeric characters typically allowed by traditional barcodes, QR codes could pack a much greater amount of information into a small space, and could be read up to 10 times faster than other codes.
Today’s QR codes take the form of a small square, and scanning that code can lead to anything from a picture to a website to a video. To use the code, users take take a picture of the square to scan and activate the code. When QR codes first began to be used to lead to information on the web, marketers felt there was tremendous benefit to using the code to deliver information quickly. But soon after their inception, use of the codes dwindled.
Recently Snapchat, a popular social media application, has restored the relevancy of the codes. Within Snapchat, users have the ability to add other users by taking a picture or “snap” of another user’s phone while they have the application open to their profile page. The Snapchat icon on the user’s smartphone acts as the QR code– when the picture of the logo is taken, the one who took the picture has successfully added the other user.
Snapchat has become increasingly popular due to the fact that images and videos disappear forever unless they are uploaded to the “My Story” feature or are screenshot by another user. The idea that when people can share an image that it is deleted resonates with Millennials who are constantly under the microscope of cameras and other recording devices. The QR codes also help in quickly adding users, so they do not have to worry about manually inputting users names into their friends lists. The ability to add Snapchat profiles instantaneously is a tremendous benefit for people who are looking to gain more users, or are in a pinch for time–celebrities, new friends, and more.
In all, what Snapchat has done is remarkable. The social media company has taken a concept first introduced over 20 years ago in Japan and found a way to make it relevant once again, in the context of a widely-adopted social media platform. We can learn an important lesson from Snapchat–sometimes, by taking a look into the past, companies can find just the right technology that will lead them into the future.