Ina Fried

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Who’s Using Those Ugly QR Codes? A Whole Lot of Us, Apparently.

The notion of using bar codes to bridge the physical and digital worlds has been around for a while.

Remember the CueCat, anyone? For those that need a refresher, it was a new kind of bar code system designed to allow print publications to make more information accessible via a portable scanner connected to a computer.

The CueCat proved to be both cumbersome and ahead of its time. The arrival of the smartphone, meanwhile, paved the way for bar codes to be scanned without the need for additional hardware. Moreover, smartphones also have the ability to bring up the link being scanned via their Web browsers, making them far more useful than the CueCat ever was.

A look through any magazine these days will show that the codes are finally going mainstream. And comScore has put together some numbers to back up the idea that the codes have hit the masses.

In June, some 14 million people — or six percent of U.S. phone owners — used their mobile devices to scan one of the codes, according to a report due to be released in the coming days.

But the phenomenon is largely focused on a single demographic — young men. Nearly three in five of those scanning a code were male, while those in the 18-34 age range accounted for more than half of those using QR codes. The wealthy were also more likely to be among the QR users — those with a household income of more than $100,000 accounted for a third of people using the codes.

The codes are finding their way into all kinds of places, from business cards to magazines to wedding invitations and even wedding cakes. That said, most of the codes being scanned are either in a magazine or on a product package, comScore found, with most scanning done either at home or in a store.

Google and others have been backers of QR codes, while Microsoft has pushed its own two-dimensional bar code format, known as Microsoft Tags. Both offer similar features, including the ability to be scanned by phone and linked to all manner of information, from Web sites to video or applications.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle