QRpedia – Dealing With Minority Languages

Humans have devised hundreds of thousands of languages with which to express themselves. Some, like Cornish are on the verge of extinction. Others, like Catalan and Welsh, are only used by a small number of speakers. Some, like New Norse, are created for political purposes.

All these languages are valuable and hugely important to their communities. Many have Wikipedia version written in their language.

Unfortunately, very few phones support these languages.

Phone showing list of languages

This poses a problem for QRpedia. They way the system works is this:

  1. Read the phone’s language
  2. Look for a suitable translation in Wikipedia
  3. Return the correct article
  4. If a translation doesn’t exist, return a list of available articles

Suppose The National Library of Wales has a QRpedia code for the Black Book of Carmarthen.
A Welsh speaker will probably wish to go to the Welsh version of the article.
However, their phone does not support the Welsh language (unless it is a Samsung S5600) and is set to English.

QRpedia, therefore, redirects them to the English version and doesn’t give them a chance to read in their native language.

This is a problem we have faced with both Catalan and Norwegian.


Catalan faces the very same problem as Welsh does in the previous theoretical example. Many people speak it but, because it’s rare for a phone to support it, their phones are set to Spanish.

This was how we solved the problem:

  • If the QRpedia code was for a Catalan page (ca.wikipedia)…
  • If the phone’s language is Catalan (CA) take them to the Catalan Wikipedia.
  • If the phone’s language is Spanish (ES) take them to a language choice screen – they can then select between Spanish, Catalan, or any other available language.
  • If the phone’s language is anything else (say EN) take them to the article in their language.

QRpedia doesn’t store the user’s language choice – so the user has to choose every time the scan which language they want.

The reasons we don’t store the language choice is that it would be very hard to undo if the user made a mistake, or ever wanted to change their language.


The Norwegians have two languages – Bokm%C3%A5l and Nynorsk.

The standard language codes are NB and NN. However, most phones only support NB – with the language header of NB-NO.
To complicate matters, the NB Wikiedia is located at NO.wikipedia!

So, after much discussion with some Norwegians, I discovered that comparatively few people read NN. So, we came up with the following fix.

  • If the phone’s language is Bokm%C3%A5l (NB-NO) take them to the NO Wikipedia.
  • If the phone’s language is Nynorsk (NN-NO) take them to the NN Wikipedia.

However, very few phones support NN (none have ever used QRpedia) so I’m not sure if this is the correct approach.


There are lots of other languages with Wikipedia supports, but which aren’t well supported on phones. Wikipedia is available in nearly 300 different languages – from Scots and Simple English to Esperanto and Latin. Although, curiously, there’s no separate Wikipedia for British English – or other regional English variants, nor is there one in Klingon

The Future

So, what should QRpedia do in the future? How should it handle all the thousands of languages in conjunction with the hundreds of Wikipedia languages?

That’s where you come in.

If you’ve got a good idea on how we handle your favourite language – drop a comment on this blog.

If you’re a coder, QRpedia is open-source. Check out the code and leave a comment, or raise a bug.

We need your help to determine what we do next.

QRpedia In The News

Terence presenting QRpedia at OTA11

© Caroline Mockett

As I stepped onto the stage at OverTheAir 11 to present QRpedia, I was buoyed by the overwhelming reception that it received on the Interwebs over the last few days.

Here’s a quick roundup.

That, and a whole avalanche of tweets, certainly put a smile on my face!

qrpedia tweets

National Archives and QRpedia

Yesterday, I paid a visit to the UK National Archives in Kew.
Their amazing educational team have recently completed a stunning QRpedia installation.

The Domesday Book

The Domesday Book

From their press-release:

As part of this project to increase digital engagement we have used the QRpedia service to link some of our museum exhibits to articles on Wikipedia. In the on site museum at Kew, visitors can use their smartphones to scan QR (quick response) codes next to the exhibits. QR codes are barcodes that can be read by smartphones to link physical and virtual documents.

The QR codes will allow visitors to the museum to explore more information on particular displays than can physically be provided on written captions. They can also deliver pages (where they exist) in the language of the user’s handset.

Visitors to the museum will also be invited to contribute their knowledge to The National Archives-related articles on Wikipedia.

There are 13 QRpedia codes dotted around the museum – here are some photos of a few of them.

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

QRpedia Scroll

Grant of Arms

The team have done an amazing job. They placed codes in prominent positions and made sure they are well lit.

They have also created a display to explain what the QR codes do. They even include instructions on how to get on to the free WiFi if your phone doesn’t have a strong signal.

QRpedia National Archives Instructions

So, now legions of school-children and visiting tourists can get highly detailed information about the National Archive’s exhibits with a simple scan of a code.

QRpedia Scanned

Where next…?

Jimmy Wales ♥ QRpedia

You know Jimmy Wales, right? He’s the guy co-founded Wikipedia – and, possibly, its most prominent face.

So, a few days ago, he popped down to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to see the work the museum is doing with its Wikipedian in Residence – Lori Philips.

What else did he do while he was there? Why, scanned some QRpedia codes!

J Wales TCM 002

J Wales TCM 013

ASP 4574

You can see all the photos of his visit on Wikimedia Commons.

My highly placed sources tell me that Mr Wales was highly impressed with the work the museum had done, and loved their innovative use of QRpedia.

If you’d like to get started with QRpedia – visit the main site to get started.
It’s free, fast, and fantastic!

QRpedia and Images

One of the great things about QR codes is they have built in error correction. This means if the code gets damaged or dirty, it can still be scanned.

This means we can add images into the QR code to make it look prettier without negatively affecting the code’s usability.

Niteesh Yadav has created some QR portraits which feature famous faces superimposed on a QR code. I’m not overly convinced by the quality of the images nor the size of the codes – he uses a QR code containing a mini-biography.

So, I decided to create a QRpedia code featuring an embedded image.

Che QR

This is the QRpedia code which links to the article on Che Guevara. I picked Che because of the iconic monochrome image of him fits in well with the black and white nature of the codes.

This was created by using a QR code with the highest level of error correction. I then cut out the centre square and replaced it with the image of Che.

This leads to all sorts of creative possibilities.

@ I'm imagining a periodic table poster with a QRpedia code for each element, with its symbol in the centre / @
Andy Mabbett

Using the Wikipedia API, it should be possible to extract an image from an article and automagically add it into a generated image.

Certainly something to think about for QRpedia 2.0!

QRpedia in the news

A quick round up of QRpedia in the news:

The New Media Consortium has produced a report entitled Technology Outlook: UK Tertiary Education.

The full report (PDF) specifically mentions QRpedia Codes as “smart objects” and predicts a time-to-Adoption of four to five years. I think we can do it sooner than that, though!
The report is CC-BY and well worth reading.

One of our friend in Indianapolis, Angie Mcnew, was interviewed by the radio station WFYI (mp3).

We now have our own Wikipedia entry – in 8 languages – which was recently featured on the Wikipedia homepage.

Finally, Álex Hinojo was interviewed in EL PAÍS.

Things are ticking along nicely. I hope to make a announcement about a significant new installation next week…

QRpedia – Dealing With Missing Entries

QRpedia is designed to offer a single QR code which points to the same article in multiple languages.

The most common question about QRpedia is “What does it do if the article doesn’t exist in my language?”

Consider the following example…

  • A French user is in a German museum.
  • They scan a code – which points to de.qrwp/Nelahozeves
  • Unfortunately, Wikipedia doesn’t have the “Nelahozeves” article in French
  • What should QRpedia do?


This has been a matter for much debate in the QRpedia team. I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on the subject.

As we see it, our choices are…

  1. 404 – Tell the user that the page doesn’t exist.
  2. Wrong Language – Show the French user the German page
  3. Choice of Language – Show the French user a choice of German, English, Dutch, etc.
  4. Smart Search – Search French Wikipedia for the term, display the results to the user.
  5. Latin – Omnis intelligit Latinum. Si non sunt barbarus!

At the moment, we do the smart search. In this case, we point to the French Wikipedia search for Nelahozeves – which has a couple of relevant results.

This isn’t ideal. Often there are no suitable results – especially as we are searching French Wikipedia for a German word or phrase.

So – over to you. What should we do? Please leave your comments and suggestions.

QRpedia Updates

We’re getting a few more museums lined up with QRpedia – and busy working on new features. I just wanted to update you on some interesting developments.

  • QRpedia was presented by Roger at Wikimania – it seemed to go down a storm!
  • The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis are adding more QR codes. A lovely blog from Lori about seeing people scan the codes.
  • A bug in Wikipedia has been fixed. This means that detection of mobile now happens at Wikipedia’s front-end.
  • The British Museum are stepping up their engagement with Wikipedia. There’s an interesting quote about QRpedia from Matthew Cock

    Cock says there can be benefits in relation to the use of QR (quick response) code technology, when a QR reader on a mobile device links to a QR code on a label by an object in a gallery or museum.

    “Not only does the link take you to the Wikipedia page for that object, but it also reads which language your phone is set at and takes you to the correct language version,” he explains.

    QR technology has been tested in museums, including the Derby Museum, but he says the British Museum would not pursue its use unless the code directed the user to the museum’s own web pages.

A few more top-secret events in the pipeline – watch this space!

Tales of two smart phones: or how one woman made an impression on a Scottish Museum

A guest blog by marianne@bamkin.org.uk

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has QR codes in some places. Level 6 to be exact. This is the story of what happened when I tried to use those QR codes last week. The article in The Guardian gave explicit  instructions of how to access the information linked to the QR code. First you have to go on to the website “Tales of Things.com” to download an app that allows you to scan and read the codes. I did that quite successfully the night before the visit, and tested out the technology from a QR code on the screen on my son’s computer. Oh, did I mention? I was staying with my son and using his wi-fi. (this becomes relevant later). The result was an interesting link about the Hillman Imp with a video, and an advert from the 1950’s or 60’s, whenever the Imp was created. not that I am old enough to remember that. (Well, Ok I do remember that one of my school friend’s dad had a Hillman Imp.)
Continue reading

QRpedia Demo at Mobile Monday

I love going to Mobile Monday London – it’s a great meeting place for those of us in the mobile industry. It’s also one of the few spaces which holds the equivalent of an “Open Mic” night.
momo logo
MoMoLo’s Spring Demo Night was crowded with great entrants. So much so that each of us had only three minutes to present! That’s quite tight. I’m used to 15-30 minutes. I’m not sure how, but I managed to distil the QRpedia pitch down.

QRpedia was received warmly by the crowd. Massive thanks to the ever-patient Liz for recording it.

Don’t just take my word for it – here’s a sample of tweets from the evening.

Fantastic demo at #momolo from @ for QRpedia.org. He's slapped up a QR code in the British Musem.
Lisa Devaney

#qrpedia is an awesome idea and implementation! #momolo
Sebastian Brannstrom

Great presentation on QRpedia by @ Looking forward to seeing lots of QR codes in museums #momolo
James Nash

I love qrpedia. Simple but very useful hack. :) #MoMoLo
David Maria Zverina

#momolo loved @ 's QRPEDIA this has 2 b the way 2 go 4 any right thinking museum who wants to connect with a wider aufjagst - 8/10
Michael Ohajuru

I enjoyed the mobile app demo night at #MomoLo tonight. Best of show: Threedomphone, Smart Wifi (already on my G2), QRPedia, & Mindings.
Jenifer Hanen

Love the simplicity of @ QRcode > language detection > article on appropriate language wikipedia. Instant localised info.
Tony Kennick

We also had a lovely write up from Ged Carrol

QRpedia was less of a business and more of a duh why hadn’t anyone else thought of putting QRcodes more effectively with Wikipedia.

So, onwards and upwards. I’ll be getting in contact with the journalists who approached me to see if we can get some favourable press. I’m also talking to people who might be able to sponsor free WiFi in museums to reduce the cost for international tourists.

Any questions – drop them in the comments box.