Make your own barcode, just like Google

Google devoted its home page to the humble barcode today – and now you can too.
Can you decode our secret message?

What's black and white and read all over? Barcodes. And boy do you people like them.

The Web was buzzing about barcodes today because Google decided to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the first ever patent on them with one of their popular doodles.

Many commenters on Amy Farnsworth's post talked of trying to scan the Google logo rendered in "Code 128" with limited degrees of success – using everything from commercial barcode scanners to cellphone cameras. Others jumped in with conspiracy theories – that barcodes are somehow related to the devil, or would in some future time be used to catalog a society overrun by machines. It's all pretty fantastic.

That got us thinking – how do you make your own barcode? A quick search (it doesn't even have to be done on Google) brought us to this free online barcode generator. It's running a bit slow after today's miniature barcode renaissance, but visitors can use it to create barcodes in any of five formats to share with friends, post on a cubicle wall, or just generally geek-out with.

Told of the barcode's humble origin – and that the original design was composed of concentric circles – many have asked about the more complex versions of barcodes now in use. You may have seen them on mail, retail packaging, or, more recently, in the pages of Golf Digest magazine.

UPS uses a two-dimensional barcode called MaxiCode. They include "offset rows of hexagonal modules arranged around a unique finder pattern," and are capable of storing not only shipping class information, but the package's intended address as well. The square codes even include error-detection technologies, so they may be read even when the bumps of a long journey obscure the image.

Those who pick up the November issue of Golf Digest magazine will see similar two-dimensional barcodes accompanying certain articles. These, when scanned with a smartphone equipped with the Microsoft Tag app, take readers to video tutorials related to the article they accompany. Some might say it's surprising to see such innovation from a golf magazine, but the move makes sense – golf is one sport dominated by ever-changing technology. Why wouldn't a publication committed to following it be the same?

What are your thoughts on barcodes? What other oft-overlooked technology are you fascinated by? Leave a comment or drop us a line on Twitter – we're @CSMHorizonsBlog.

Oh, and for those readers with access to a scanner (some mobile phones work, too) take a crack at decoding the image above!

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