QR Codes for Museums

by @edent | , , | 13 comments | Read ~748 times.

Tom Morris pointed me to this interesting discussion about using Wikipedia QR codes in museums.
I think it's an excellent idea. It's something I've briefly discussed with Cristianno Betta for his 100 Objects project.

There are five key points to the success of such a scheme.

  1. 100% of visitors will be scanning these codes on their mobile phones. The code must point to the mobile version of Wikipedia.
  2. <100% of visitors will speak the language of the country where the museum is located (for example, 25% of visitors to the Science Museum are foreign. Pointing to just the English article is unacceptable.
  3. The QR code should be simple enough to scan quickly. This mean using as short a URL as possible.
  4. The URL presented must be human readable. The user must know to where they are being directed. The QR scanner may have a "history" option which will allow the user to see the codes they've scanned.
  5. Statistics must be gathered showing how many people are using the QR codes to assess their effectiveness.

Mobile Redirection is Broken on Wikipedia

The current way that Wikipedia does mobile redirection is broken and should be considered harmful to users.
At the moment, a mobile user-agent visiting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rossetta_Stone has to load the entire HTML document, process the complex JavaScript, and only then is redirected to the mobile version of the site.

This means that a visitor incurs a significant wait before they are directed to the correct content. If the visitor is roaming in a foreign country, they may pay significant per-MB costs for this download.

The correct way is for Wikipedia's servers to detect the mobile user-agent and 302 redirect to the mobile version.

Language Detection

I don't know how Wikipedia detects the preferred language of its visitors. Ideally, it should look at the Accept-Language Header of the phone and / or use the IP address of the device (assuming the user isn't using the museum's WiFi).

Finally, the QR/mobile version of Wikipedia should allow a user to easily change the language of the page they are viewing.

Short URL, Human Readability, and Statistics

URL shortening services often produce a jumble of letters and number which, while short, mean nothing to the human user. For example http://bit.ly/fNXn1W. In addition, use of commercial URL shortening services is problematic should the company no longer maintain its service.

Using the "normal" URL gives us this

Using the "mobile" URL gives us this

Using a QR code specifically for QR use gives us this

Finally, there could be a separate short domain for Wikipedia accessed through QR codes.
For example, the currently unregistered qrpedia.org
Obviously, this has branding problems - would people recognise it as being from Wikipedia?


Ideally, we would use a URL like http://wikipedia.org/qr/Rossetta_Stone

When the use scanned the code and requested the URL, Wikipedia would then perform two actions

  1. Detect the user's preferred language.
  2. 302 redirect to the mobile version.

If the language detection was incorrect, the user could simply change it.

Wikipedia admins, museum staff, and anyone else, would be able to see which exhibits had the most scans.


13 thoughts on “QR Codes for Museums

  1. says:

    Excellent feedback that we will pull into the project. The tools and museum initiative behind this (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:GLAM/DER ) are at the 'proof of concept' stage and are under active discussion and improvement. The demonstration being organized will flush out a number of teething troubles but the intention is to create a model for Wikipedia and UK institutions to adopt easy to apply and use QR codes for more interactive public exhibitions.

    The initiative is crowd-sourced, so if anyone feels they can help please set up a Wikipedia account and join in. There are a range of international Galleries Libraries Archives and Museums collaborating in different ways, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:GLAM for an overview.

    1. As Fae notes we just put up our first dozen or so qrcodes to see how it works. Pity we didn't have your website yeaterday. The language issue is a large one. As far as I know (please correct me!) its not possible to access a wikipedia article and be redirected on the fly to another language. It will take some thinking about as only wikipedia links know what name has been chosen in another language for each article. Moreover English is not the "master" system. Articles can exist in every language except english.

      The Derby initiative is particularly keen to try and address the multi -lingual approach. We could do with some technical expertise if any readers are available (see link above)

      1. Tom Morris says:

        So, this is why I'm thinking about building a sort of proxy system which museums could use to point to a Wikipedia article in any language, and it'd talk to the API and stuff.

        I started building it the other day but haven't got it finished yet. I also don't know how it would be hosted and whether something that's developed indepedently of Wikimedia would be appreciated by those in the WP:GLAM projects.

        1. Victuallers says:

          Tom, tell us more. Obviously the "independant" bit is the worry. As noted above url shorteners could go out of business or try to exploit the traffic through their site. If you are having an open source link then you would want somev reassurance that the any "rights" were being managed in the best interests of all.

        2. Tom, did you get anywhere with your coding?

  2. There's an English-language WIkipeida URL shortener in the form: http://enwp.org/Rossetta_Stone - It doesn't appear (from ) to be official, and l'm not aware of other-language equivalents. By preserving the last part of the URL - the article title, unless redirected - it retains human readability, at the expense of reduced brevity.

    The issue with language recognition is that there is not always a 1-1 relationship. Articles might exist in English, but not some other language, or vice versa; and there is sometimes disagreement over which article matches which. Suppose, hypothetically, the English-language Wikipedia has an article on each of the original iPhone and iPhone 4G, but the French-language article only has a single iPhone article, about both.which English article should English-speaking visitors to a French museum be re-directed to?

  3. Nick Moyes says:

    These seem very sensible comments indeed. From our brief foray into DIY QR codes at Derby Museum, I'd add the following extra thoughts.

    As a curator, I'd like a tool that acts like a shopping trolley on a commercial website. i.e I can select the links and QR codes I want, then remove those I no longer require. Having done so, I'd like to be able to drop my selection into a template, ready to print out the set of QR codes, ideally double sided, with the Wikipedia page name on the reverse (so I know what it is should I wish to cut it out)
    If the template allowed me to add a line of small text below the QR code, I'd be happy just to put "Wikipedia" to indicate the source. Wouldn't that be enough to show users where they are being taken? With an option to add a header of the Wikipedia page name, plus thin lines around the main code and header/footer to act as guidelines for cutting out, I'd be one contented person.
    For saving my QR codes to file, I'd like my selection to be downloadable to my chosen destination with the filename based on the Wikipedia page name so I don't get them confused.

    Or am I being a bit too fussy?

  4. You may be interested in how the City of Brussels are implementing QR Codes

    Simple URL pointing at a multi-lingual site.

    1. Thanks TE, I'm not sure the idea of having a multi-lingual page adds much value. All of the wikipedia pages have a side bar that allows you to flick languages (where available). I think the only added value is if it knows what your top languages are and gives you the best one available. The appeal of the QR code is that it saves you "all that effort?" of typing in a url or making a choice.

      1. Hi,

        I'm sorry to say that I disagree. The mobile version of Wikipedia doesn't have any links to multilingual version of the page.
        If your museum only attracts English speakers - then pointing to en.m.wikipedia.org is acceptable. But for museums with a large amount of international visitors, it's not really a good solution.


        1. Ive been thinking - you're right. I'd like to discuiss this more. Do you know anyone who has a QR code reader on a mobile phone that is open source and they know how to modify what it does?

          Please email me at gmail

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *