Metro's Use of QR Codes


Updated! 2011-01-11 20:00 - see the response from the Metro.

The Metro is a London-based UK newspaper national newspaper which is distributed in 33 cities across the UK.
Around a year ago, I reviewed the Metro's mobile website. It wass a perfectly fine mobile site and I'm pleased to see that over the last 12 months it has undergone substantial improvements. You can visit it at http://metro.mobi/

This morning, I spotted this prominent QR code - placed on page 2 of the paper.

Metro QR Code
Photo by Benjamin Welby

So far, so good. There are a couple of flaws in the implementation which I'll come to. But first, the biggie.

Despite having a mobile site - guess what happens when you scan the QR code....?
Metro website viewed on a phone

Yes, that's right! Rather than pointing directly to metro.mobi, they're pointing to their main website metro.co.uk. Worse than that, the main website doesn't do any user-agent sniffing. Their front-end servers (or CDN) ought to detect mobile traffic and automatically redirect mobile devices to the mobile-friendly website.

Most phones will find the main site hard to navigate, flash adverts won't render, and the large data size will make downloading the page slow and potentially expensive.

Using Bit.ly

The main problem with this QR code is that it doesn't point to a mobile friendly site - but there are a few other gotchas.

Yes, you can use bit.ly to generate QR codes, but I wouldn't recommend it.

  • Anyone - even your competitors - can see the statistics of your campaign. Visit http://bit.ly/gM06V2+ to see how many clicks the QR code has received. Where possible, you should use your own, private QR generating service.
  • The short URLs are ugly! "gM06V2" is neither pretty nor memorable. Worse, a user typically has no idea what's behind that random string of characters and may be put off simply because they don't know where they will be sent. If you must use bit.ly - be sure to edit the code. For example, I've just created http://bit.ly/MetroMobile which looks nicer and points to the correct destination.
  • What happens if the bit.ly services goes down? Your customers won't be able to access your services.
  • What happens if Libya - the owners of .ly - decide to shut down bit.ly?
  • Finally, do you need a URL shortner? http://metro.mobi is 17 characters, the URL used in Metro's QR code is http://bit.ly/gM06V2?r=qr - 25 characters!

I'm really pleased that the Metro is embracing QR codes. Much like the early days of URLs, we're bound to see a few mistakes - let's hope the kinks get straightened out before the public lose faith in these little magic squares.

QR Code for Metro Mobile - by Terence Eden

Update

Just got this in from Martin Ashplant, the Head of Content at Metro.co.uk...

We are in the process of developing our offering so readers can choose whether they want to visit our website, which has richer content, or our mobile site. This choice will be available within a month.

We are comfortable with bit.ly for this particular campaign as it is our data and we are not concerned about it being public. However if we were to run such a campaign for a client we would of course make sure that the data remained private.

5 thoughts on “Metro's Use of QR Codes

  1. Would be very simple to provide people with the choice of whether to go to the .com or the .mobi by creating a barcode to point people to metro.tel - as well as telephone numbers and SMS numbers for feedback and editorial. Simples ๐Ÿ˜‰ and absolutely what .tel is meant to do in a lightweight way.

  2. Good observations/advice here !

    Just a thought on the "should the QR point to .mobi or the full site" item (in the case were "website doesnโ€™t do any user-agent sniffing" to detect a mobile client)

    When do you NOT scan a QR with a mobile? OK, I know I can install a QR reader that would use my computer's webcam, but in 9 of 10 (10 of 10?) cases, wouldn't people scan with their mobiles?
    So, give them the .mobi !
    (and possibly a "switch to full site" link somewhere on that site, for that 1 out of 10...)

    ๐Ÿ™‚

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