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.

Other examples of accidental uses of my QR Code

Feel free to if you found this useful.