Trouble checking in?

Checking in is now mandatory at all shops and venues in Victoria. A lot of people still don’t check in, though. Why?

It’s framed as a compliance problem, but I’m absolutely convinced it’s also a user experience problem, and that a simpler, more robust process, would lead to higher checkin rates. I’ve watched people attempting to scan, and failing at rates of greater than 50% – they are trying to comply, but it’s just too hard.

It’s common now to find yourself standing in a queue to check in – many businesses only have one poster up to scan, so for a variety of reasons, only one person at a time can check in. It should not take so long, and there are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, the Services Victoria app is just slow. I don’t have an brand new phone, but it’s not that old either – still, this app is by far the slowest to load to ready (25 seconds!) of any app I have. This is less of a problem now that the app can be correctly triggered from the camera, but even that didn’t work properly until more recent versions of the app, causing a lot of people to just stop using it.

Second, the codes are very complex. QR codes work best when the string of text is short. These ones, however, encode a monstrous 215 character URL! Here’s one I used today…

Why is this a problem? More characters means more dots in the QR code. More dots means smaller dots, that are harder for cameras to interpret reliably. Add to this, that most are situated in less than perfect lighting, and laminated, so that reflections cause problems as well. You have to be right in front of the poster, cut down reflections, wait for the camera to focus… it’s a perfect storm, really – especially for the sort of cheaper, low powered phones that many older people choose.

Infuriating, because there’s an easy fix – shorten the URL! The two QR codes below do exactly the same thing, but the one on the right has been shortened using bitly (not advocating bitly, just an example!). The result is a far easier code for a phone to read. Use matt lamination sleeves and you’ve solved most of the technical problems.

Original QR code
QR code created from a shortened URL

Blows my mind, really, because on the posters below the QR code, they have an alternate 6 character location code. If they can do it in 6 characters, why do they use 165?

Why use an app at all? If a six character code can be used, why not just use SMS? Phones are pretty good at that stuff! I suppose there’s the problem where a percentage of people have caller ID turned off, but I’d suspect that’s a smaller proportion of people than we have just giving up now.

Of course, the biggest question is, why did Victoria have to develop their own app? Check-in should have been a feature of the Covid Safe app from day 1, feeding into a single, centralised system. The bonus would be people opening the app on a regular basis, instead of it sitting idle, forgotten, and useless on their phones. Just another failure of the federal government to seize leadership when it needed to.

I can’t see the QR code thing going away in a hurry. I really hope they fix it.