The WaSP Buzz’ article on a new mobile web browser test made mention of phones that can read QR Codes—one of several types of 2-D bar codes that you see on things like shipping labels. In this case, the idea is that you can point your phone’s camera at the QR code and it’ll decode it and send you to the appropriate URL.

My first thought was that this was just like the CueCat, which was a bar code scanner that you could plug into your computer’s USB port, then scan bar codes in magazines, or on cans of soda, or whatever, and it would tell your computer to bring up relevant information. It was marketed in the late 1990s, during the tech boom… and it was a total flop. No one wanted them. The company went under and had millions of the little scanners sitting around unsold.

But now there are multiple schemes in use for object hyperlinking. In addition to graphical codes, there are RFID tags, GPS coordinates, and short text codes that you can easily type into an SMS message or a web portal.

So why is this sort of thing working now, 10 years later? Is it a societal change? Was the CueCat ahead of its time?

I think there are two reasons:

  • CueCat was a single-purpose device. All the applications listed involve smartphones or other multi-purpose handheld devices. No one wanted a device that would only scan bar codes, but a phone/camera/browser/MP3 Player/bicycle that also scans bar codes? Sure, why not?
  • CueCat was tied to the desktop. Sure, you could plug it into a laptop computer, but you’d still have to take the object over to your computer to scan the bar code. Unless you’re a lousy typist, swiping the CueCat across your can of Coke isn’t that much easier than typing in As a home user, you’re not likely to be scanning a dozen objects in a row (unless you’re cataloging all of your books for LibraryThing).

All the applications listed on that page are mobile. A tagging scheme does give you an advantage when you’re out walking down the street and see something interesting. It’s much easier to punch in a short number than to try to type a URL on most phones, easier still to point your camera at a graphic, and dead simple to pick up an RFID tag or pull in GPS coordinates.

There’s been a surprising number of visitors today to my post about getting up at 2:30 A.M. for last August’s lunar eclipse. Strangely enough, they’re not only looking for the same phrase, “lunar eclipse pictures,” but they have the exact same referrer, down to options and encoding. The fp-today parameter leads me to suspect that some module on Yahoo’s homepage (not one I can see, though) included a link to this set of search results. Though I suppose it could have been a newsletter or a blog with more regular readers than mine.

Another surprise: visits from commentary on last night’s Clinton/Obama debate. The comment thread includes a link to my post on JMS’s Londo/G’Kar campaign signs. Found while skimming the comments for links: T-shirts for the Capricorn ticket, Roslin/Airlock.

And then there’s the surge in searches for the Black Flash, no doubt inspired by people reading today’s Something Positive strip. In addition to landing directly on the profile, people are coming in from the Wikipedia article, and finding Flash Foreshadowing via an image search.

Slashdot posted a story about a new web browser called Flock. The source was an article at BusinessWeek. Now here’s the interesting part:

It’s a fairly long article about a web browser, and it mentions a few other web browsers including Firefox, Opera and IE. It also mentions websites and But the only links in the article are to stock quotes and an earlier article.

I understand that it’s Business Week, and I’m not saying they should have linked to every website that was even tangentially mentioned—but you’d think they could have at least linked to the browser company they just profiled! I had to get that link from Slashdot! (Unfortunately, so did everyone else, so I won’t be able to look at the page until tomorrow.)

Edit: Compare the BusinessWeek article to Wired’s take from last month. Even taking into account that they’re written for different audiences, BusinessWeek still looks like a print article that’s been thrown up on the web.