Why does that QR Code go to justinsomnia.org?

Back in 2007 I stumbled upon 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 March 2011, my QR Code image got lodged in the second position of Google Images’ search results for “qr code”. As a result, my self-referential QR Code blog post became one of the most requested pages on my site, regularly clocking in several hundred views a day. But what happened next almost defies explanation.

Google Images results page for 'qr code' highlighting a result that points to justinsomnia.org
Screenshot of Google Images, circa March 2011, 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 my QR Code blog post from Dec 2007 to Feb 2011

My QR Code started showing up in all sorts of obscure places. First it appeared briefly in a video demoing a new mobile operating system, then it turned up plastered all over a Brazilian website for custom soccer t-shirts. I received an email from a company in Belgium that had mailed out fliers to students with the message, “Scan the QR Code using a QR Reader on your smartphone and find out what jobs our company has to offer”, and they printed it with my QR Code! And you gotta love this one:

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

I can only speculate that marketing people in need of a QR Code would search Google 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 mock-up needed it. And because it’s impossible to “proofread” a QR Code without a specialized QR Reader, it’s all too easy for my QR Code to inadvertently end up on finished products, thus becoming a sort of accidental 21st century ETAOIN SHRDLU.

As people around the world find my QR Code in all sorts of unexpected places, they occasionally email me about where they found it, often with pictures, which I’ve been cataloging on my blog since the beginning.

Want to read more? Check out the article I wrote, Code Confusion, published by Fabrikzeitung, a monthly magazine in Zurich, Switzerland.

Why does Robot Barf link to this page?

I’m not sure who first coined the term, but sometime in 2011 (per the Wayback Machine) the domain robotbarf.com was registered as a tongue-in-cheek slang for QR Codes. The site consisted of an image of the Android robot mascot (aka “Bugdroid”) barfing up a QR Code (that linked to @seanbreeden). Naturally, I’ve updated its barf below.

Robot Barf

Not long after, the site devolved into Japanese domain squatter spam, until sometime in 2019, when it looks like the domain registration must have lapsed. After a robot barf link 404’d on me, I discovered that the domain was actually available to register. So I snapped it up, and as of January 2020, I’m redirecting all robotbarf.com requests to this page.

33 Comments

corey

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.

jackie

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
  4. DHIATENSOR
  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:
Sindrome JUSTINSOMNIA.
http://blog.macanudos.es/2010/11/la-importancia-de-llamarse-qrernesto.html
Regards from Spain!!

Geli

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

Georgina

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!

rgagnon

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.

statikf

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.)

HRO

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!

HRO

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

guido

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

Bartek

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

Hi Justin, here’s a blog that has a photo of the poster:
http://radar.oreilly.com/2012/01/tsa-qr-code-flub.html

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)

Bob

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.

mikko

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).

Baddie

Bit late to the party but just saw your qr code on episode 1 of Amazon Prime’s Jack Ryan. It was on the back of Greer’s CIA ID pass. Still got it J!!

Mike Y

Hahaha this is awesome. Love how your QR code has proliferated. All the people and orgs who used it without for checking the URL are lucky it doesn’t lead to a porn site or something. :D Also, I just checked the QR code example I used in a Blurb training article years ago…it isn’t yours.

PS Unrelated: the “Email” field says an email address is optional but it’s forcing me to add one anyway.

Shreyash

Hi Justin
A QR code on a notebook from a local manufacturer in India brought me here.
I’ll email you the images for you to see.

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