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.
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.
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:
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.
- I’m famous! (in a random MeeGo demo)
- I’m famous! (on a Brazilian futebol site)
- I’m famous! (on the homepage of BlackBerry India)
- I’m famous! (on the front page of Dainik Bhaskar AND The Times of India)
- How demotivating is a QR Code?
- I’m famous! (in a PayPal concept video)
- I’m famous! (on a virtual supermarket website in Chile)
- I’m famous! (on a TSA sign at Orlando International Airport)
- I’m famous! (on Chile’s new national identity cards)
- I’m famous! (in a Google patent application)
- I’m famous! (in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan)
- I’m famous! (on a composition notebook in India)
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.
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.