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Instant Info

QR codes promise more data in less time.

The board president sat there, staring at the strange-looking square. It had the appearance of an antique Japanese woodcut or a new kind of computer chip, with odd-looking little squares sitting among abstract rectangles and thick lines.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s a QR code,” said his companion. “And it will open up the world for you.”

With some skepticism, the president followed instructions and went to the Google app store and downloaded a “QR Reader” into his smartphone. He then pointed his phone’s camera at the oddly designed square, took a picture, and was instantly transported to a web page for the Department of Buildings (DOB). There, he found details on an ongoing project he was researching – including the approved scope of work, identities of the property owner and job applicant, other approved projects associated with the permit, as well as complaints and violations related to the location.

Ah, technology! In the coming months, this president – and other board members throughout the city – should be seeing quite a lot of the ubiquitous and helpful QR codes. QR stands for “quick response,” and that’s just what users will get from a new campaign begun by the city on February 22, when it introduced QR codes into its permitting system to speed up the processing of information.

The codes, originally developed in the early 1990s to track manufacturing inventory, have morphed into a marketing tool for many retailers, businesses, and organizations. No wonder, too: they offer a quick and easy shortcut to passing on information and are becoming more common in magazines, on advertisements, in catalogs, on product packaging, and now on construction sites. They have become so popular as a data-sharing device that at least one city, Tamarac, Florida, is using QR codes at its parks and facilities, as well as on public art. In San Francisco, over 500 restaurants and businesses now feature a QR code that links tourists to Citysearch for reviews and other web-based content.

QR codes enable consumers to find out more about a product or service by scanning a pixelated black-and-white image with their mobile phone camera. The code is connected to a unique URL or web address, but unlike a universal product code label, QR codes can embed several hundred times more information.

How does this affect co-ops and condos? DOB’s initiative will provide New Yorkers with instant access to information related to buildings and construction sites throughout the city. Construction permits will have QR codes added to them, and all permits are expected to have QR codes by roughly 2013. The codes will allow anyone to gather more information about who is performing work, including the addresses and telephone numbers of property owners and job applicants.

The city says that QR codes will provide more efficient access to government data, help the public know what’s being built in their neighborhoods, and allow people to make more informed decisions about responding to a violation or making a complaint.

“We are using technology to provide more information to the public,” says Jennifer Gilbert, a press spokeswoman at DOB. “We’re very excited about this.”

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