Why does that QR Code go to justinsomnia.org?

Back in 2007 I stumbled something called a QR Code. It was a neat two-dimensional barcode that encodes textual information visually—with URLs being a promising application for the emerging smartphone market (thanks to the release of the iPhone that year). So I did what any self-respecting personal blogger would do: I QR-encoded my own URL. And posted it to my blog.

QR-Code for http://justinsomnia.org/

At some point between then and now, my QR code image got lodged in the second position of Google Images’ search results for “qr code”. As a result, it became one of the most requested pages on my site, regularly clocking in several hundred requests a day. But what happened next defies rationale explanation.

Google Images results page for 'qr code' highlighting a result that points to justinsomnia.org
Google Images results, with my QR Code highlighted
Graph of monthly requests for http://justinsomnia.org/2007/12/qr-code/ from December 2007 to February 2011
Monthly requests for QR Code from Dec 2007 to Feb 2011

My QR Code started showing up in all sorts of unexpected places. It seems that marketing people who needed a QR Code would search for one, find mine aesthetically pleasing (well, the #1 result above contains the BBC logo, so that won’t do) and slap it on whatever mockup needed it. And because it’s impossible to “proofread” a QR Code without a specialized QR Reader, a few instances of my QR Code ended up on finished products, thus becoming a sort of accidental 21st century ETAOIN SHRDLU.

I’ve previously blogged about two amusing incarnations of my QR Code appearing in public: one improbably discovered within a demo video for MeeGo and the other all over a Brazilian futebol site. Apparently it’s gotten so bad that Gabriel Medina of Macanudos.es even coined a term for the proliferation of my QR Code across the web: Justinsomnia Syndrome. Case in point:

Ad mockup for The Counter displaying a QR Code that points to justinsomnia.org
Mockup of an ad for “The Counter” using my QR Code

A few days ago another “outbreak” was brought to my attention. Apparently my QR Code ended up on a job recruitment flier that got sent to some students in Belgium. An actual printed flier. But here’s the kicker: the account manager from the ad agency emailed me and asked if I wouldn’t mind redirecting all Belgium traffic coming to my homepage over to their landing page for the next three weeks. Can you imagine? Well, it just so happens that I built an adserver that did geotargeting, so yeah, I can do that. For a price. In the end it turns out my price was too high. Oh well, I tried.

Flier from Belgium in Dutch accidentally displaying a QR Code that points to justinsomnia.org
The flier says: “Scan the QR Code using a QR Reader on your smartphone and find out what Company X has to offer.” Oops!

Update, March 28, 2011: Surprisingly, sometime between March 25th and 26th, requests for my QR Code post dropped from 800/day to 40-50. I checked the “qr code” results in Google Images and discovered that my QR Code was now the #1 result—but it was a copy of my image posted on Adrants.com.

That’s a pretty significant loss of several hundred quasi-pageviews a day, but the image itself is already so pervasive, it probably does not mean the end of “Justinsomnia Syndrome”. In fact a few days ago I received the following email:

I would like to ask on behalf of a client of ours if it is possible to by [sic] the QR-Code you are using for your website for exclusive usage from now until the 31st of July 2011?

What does that mean? I’m guessing they think I can somehow magically cause that QR Code (which they accidentally used in something printed?) to redirect to another URL. I don’t think they understand that the QR Code IS the URL. In any case, I’ve yet to hear back.

As an aside: at least I don’t have to complain to anyone about not abiding by my Creative Commons By-Attribution license with a link back to my site—because the image itself is a link back to my site, muah ha ha ha! Come to think of it, a QR Code would make a great watermark.

Want to read even more? Check out my article, Code Confusion, published by Fabrikzeitung, a monthly magazine in Zurich.

Other examples of accidental uses of my QR Code

Feel free to if you found this useful.



you really need to market your seo skills :) I have come across images from your site several times just doing random searches over the years.

Ha, you should leave a comment when that happens! I’m pretty sure I could sum up my SEO skillz in a single (very boring) blog post.


thank you and wikipedia for teaching me about ETAOIN SHRDLU. I’d never heard of it. this is a really interesting post generally.

jackie, you should have seen how many Google searches it took for me to pull that out of the deeper recesses of the internet (and my mind by extension).

Originally I had written “lorem ipsum” which though not incorrect, does not convey the analogous intention (or lack thereof). According to my Google Web History, I tried 10 different search strings (over 6 minutes!), all of which failed to bring back “ETAOIN SHRDLU” in the results. A single Google search session rarely lasts that long.

  1. newspaper qwerty
  2. newspaper accidental printed string
  3. printing press first row characters
  5. accidental string in printed newspaper
  6. accidental text in printed newspaper
  7. accidental text in printing press
  8. test text in printing press
  9. accidental sample text printing press
  10. lorem ipsum

Given my repeated failed attempts to pull it back the answer I was looking for, I buckled down and decided to skim the lorem ipsum Wikipedia article for clues, and wouldn’t you believe it, ETAOIN SHRDLU was right there under “See Also”.

Google 0, Wikipedia 1.

Haha thats fantastic. The Belgian job flyer is too much though…

You should at least display a special Justinsomnia logo for belgian visitors, perhaps featuring french fries and mayonnaise!

Hi, simply you’re the best!! and your QR one of the most famous of the world. You make MARK:
Regards from Spain!!


you should sell any cool things on your webside ;-)) – it would an easy business …going by itslef …


So we are doing a project for a marketing class at Florida Atlantic University for a local restaurant and we are suggesting the use of a QR Code. We did exactly what you described. Googled for a QR code and stuck it on our PowerPoint. We are presenting Monday and I decided to scan it to see where it took me in case it was not suitable for a school project and found this page. Just thought I would share how I found the site!


An ironic place for justinsomnia’s QR code?

While in line for security at Orlando International Airport (MCO) on July 16, 2011, I spotted a TSA poster on the poles in line announcing a new program that allows kids under 12 to keep their shoes on. It stated next to the QR code on the poster for parents to get more information by scanning the code.

Guess where the code brings you? That’s right. Here! After reading how this happens, I had a bit of a laugh that a “big government agency” didn’t bother to check the QR code in their own poster.

rgagnon, wow. I need to get a photo of that!

Noel Chile

Hello on this site appears your QR code … You’re famous in Chile … http://jumbo.cl/supermercado/jumbomobile/

Noel, thanks for the heads up, neat. I’ll probably write a blog post about it in a day or two.


well if SOPA passes I’m sure you can do something about this.

Walt French

Going so meta here… your ads (from Google Syndication, no?) now feature QR code services. Guess THAT makes sense. (The linked page has a QR code that points to itself, however.)


Wow, I find this story quite amazing. A positive proof of the level of techno-stupidity in which most people is sunk (not that I’m that surprised anyway, having worked at tech support.)

Just go with the flow I guess… drop those adverts –> and rent the space by yourself!


(( the –> pointed to the adverts sidebar… which now is gone… weird.))


Go to Mediatag to watch the magic: change content behind the magic qr code from Mediatag


I tried it on tineye.com, 62 results :D

Hi Justin, here’s a blog that has a photo of the poster:

HRO, I only show ads to to people coming from outside mysite, which is why they disappeared.

billbergh, hi, yeah I saw that and blogged about it a few weeks ago: I’m famous! (on a TSA sign at Orlando International Airport)


It’s sort of tempting to respond to people that for a fee they can buy the right to the image for that time. LEt them do that, and then wait for the to come back and ask if you can redirect, and you can say yes… for a much higher fee.

That’s hilarious man! So funny that someone
would just take the image of your from google and advertise it? Who does that? I could understand a little kid doing a report, but a company or organization? wow. I like Bob’s idea for maximum gains! haha

If you ever want a truly “unique” qr code, give me a shout. I just started a brand new business. I’ll send you a coupon code for a discount if you message @brandedqrs on twitter. Great blog. Good luck!

That’s hilarious, but I’m also flabbergasted at the incompetence of the advertisers.


Really lolled for this. People are so stupid.
you can make some / lot cash for making ad to that page. Redirect $$$ / week. Of course you can use meta/html/js/htaccess redirect

mikko, I’ll do it for a price, but it comes at a cost for my readers, since there’s no way I can determine whether someone scanned a QR Code with a mobile device, or whether they were checking out my homepage on a mobile device.

And I did QR Cod, just what is the meaning of it I do not understand.

here’s another example of qr that brings to your website… a Chilean newspaper called “El Mercurio” used your QR Code for a infographic about the new DNI. http://www.emol.com/noticias/nacional/2013/05/06/597167/infografia-conoce-como-sera-la-nueva-cedula-de-identidad.html

Jorge (aka que importa) thanks for the heads up, I wrote up a little summary of my findings here: I’m famous! (on Chile’s new national identity cards).

Allan Miller

Justin, your QR code is also immortalized in a Google patent application! https://www.google.com/patents/US20120158919

Allan, big thanks for the heads up. That’s so neat! I just posted about it: I’m famous! (in a Google patent application).


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