When most people think about the state fair, it's the rides, livestock, corn dogs and cotton candy that typically come to mind. But this year, the thousands of people visiting the California State Fair each day are in for a different sort of treat: one with a technology twist.

This year, the state fair, held annually at Cal Expo in Sacramento, kicked off on Friday, July 12, and it introduced a social media help desk, manned by volunteer social media experts. The goal? To help fairgoers learn how to use QR codes, receive help downloading QR code reader apps on their smartphones, and to provide advice on how to use social media sites like Facebook, Vine, Twitter and Google Plus.

While no computers are set up at the help desk, volunteers give one-on-one advice to visitors who stop by the booth -- with or without their personal technology -- throughout the fair’s 17-day run, which concludes Sunday, July 28. 

William Hedge, a musician and master of ceremonies who attended the fair on Monday, July 22, visited the help desk to learn about more features on his smartphone. After stopping by, Hedge said he learned new ways to utilize social media for his business.

Rebecca Johnson, founder and CEO of My Social Media Pro, a social media consulting business in the Sacramento area, said she and other local social media gurus are serving as volunteers mainly to give advice on how to better use QR codes and educate the public on how to read them on their smartphones. The state fairgrounds this year have several QR codes on display at exhibits – some of which are used connect users to fair discounts. 

And helping fairgoers out with the technology was needed, as a significant amount of the public is still unaware of how to use QR codes and what purpose they serve. “People see [QR codes],” Johnson said. “They recognize them as a bar code, but they don’t understand how to use them or why they should be using them.”

Greg Kinder, Cal Expo's deputy manager of programs, said the idea to integrate QR code technology into the fair came to him after a conversation he had with his parents about it. “They saw these little squares in magazines and knew they could use their phones to get something out of that," he said, "but they didn’t know how."

After a brief tutorial and downloading the appropriate app, Kinder's parents were excited to use QR codes. So after that experience, Kinder realized that other people may also feel intimidated by the technology -- indimidation that a quick demonstration could easily fix.

At next year's state fair, Kinder wants to expand the help desk -- he said he hopes to mold it into a type of hub so that fairgoers can receive more advice about QR codes and other technologies. 

“I’m hoping that it will build,” Kinder said. “I’m hoping that we can get word out even more, so that it will be known that you can come to the fair and learn more about your smartphone.” 

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer
Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.