News - 11th November 2019

Let’s talk barcodes…


One of the key principles of parkrun is to keep it simple. We love that it doesn’t take much to take part in parkrun. One requirement we do ask is for you to bring along a printed barcode if you want a time.


parkrun is a global organisation with a database of over 6 million people. Every week, our volunteers take the scanners and stopwatch, plug them into a computer and upload the data to the parkrun supercomputer! The servers match the data with our database and put it all together to produce the results table.


The scanners we use are reliable, inexpensive devices that are the same the world-over. We therefore have one system to read the data. They work really well on paper and plastic, they don’t reliably scan screens like phones or watches. One of the main reasons for this is that the anti-reflective coating that companies like Apple and Samsung work so hard to improve, scatters the light from the (relatively) low-powered scanners that we use.


So, the easiest way for our volunteer event teams to capture your data and process your results is by scanning a printed barcode.  What are some of the other reasons we ask for a ‘printed’ barcode?


  1. The printed barcode has your name printed on it, the watch app does not. It is so much nicer being able to use a name, even in that brief encounter.
  2. The printed barcodes also have your “In case of Emergency” (ICE) data. Having your name and ICE details readily accessible allows us to use this information to help keep you safe. Barcodes on phones and watches are displayed in so many different ways that we can’t count on seeing this information.
  3. Getting the device ready to scan can take longer than getting a piece of paper ready, this can hold up the line, especially at larger events.
  4. Technology changes all of the time, both hardware and the apps that run on them. What might work today, may not after the next software update.
  5. As mentioned, we cannot guarantee that the barcode will scan from the screen of a phone or a watch.


We know people out there have lots of questions about this so here are the answers to the most common ones:


Q: My screen definitely works with the scanners, why can’t you accept that?
A: We know that some screens do work. However, if we start saying that we can scan some screens we are effectively making a commitment to accept all screens and we know that the vast majority don’t work.


Q: What’s wrong with manually entering the data if the screen fails?
A: Great question and this is one of the big reasons why we can’t change yet. If we know someone’s barcode then manually entering a single result is easy. However, the problem comes when the barcode is written down wrong (think sweaty hands on a piece of paper after a run and volunteers with bad handwriting!). When this happens, our volunteers have to search that global database of over 6 million people. There are a lot of people with similar names in there! There are also people who register with their middle name and people who don’t update their home parkrun. This means that it can sometimes take several minutes to find someone manually in the system. If we relaxed our rules, some parkruns might only have a few manual entries each week so they might not see this as a problem. However, all of our events are growing and many of our events could easily have 30 or 40 manual entries to process every week. If even some of these are ambiguous or tricky to find then a few minutes can rapidly turn into a large amount of extra time for our volunteers on a Saturday morning.


Q: Isn’t requiring a printed barcode a barrier to participation when many people don’t have a printer?
A: It might be with a very small number of people but even then we try to help. Most people have access to a printer either at work or a local library. You only need to print a single page once. We’re pretty confident that anyone who has a smartphone or smartwatch can get access to a printer. We also make wristbands and plastic tokens available through the web. You can order one and have it delivered within a few days. We provide everything else for parkrun every week, we don’t think it’s much to ask to expect people to contribute a printed barcode.


The bottom line is that printed barcodes work really well in keeping parkrun consistent every week at every event. It helps us keep it as simple as possible. Our “no printed barcode – no time” policy is therefore black and white, just like a printed barcode.


Earlier this year, Tom Williams chatted to the team at Free, Weekly, Timed about our no barcode policy. Click here to hear an explanation from the parkrun Global COO.


Lastly, please be kind to our volunteers. If you’ve been told they can’t scan your phone or watch, please respect them. Don’t ask them to write your name down, just come back next week with your printed barcode. We’re here every week.

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