Website with Semacode, Why?

Semacodes are pretty cool.

The all knowing Wikipedia with it’s dazzling array of cross-links describes a semacode thusly:

a URL can be converted into a type of barcode resembling a crossword puzzle, which is called a “tag”. Tags can be quickly captured with a mobile phone‘s camera and decoded to obtain a Web site address. This address can then be accessed via the phone’s web browser

In essence you take a photo of a thing (see top right) and your phone does something interesting.

In Japan (rumour has it) they’re very common. But they call them QR Codes. And they’ve started doing things like putting them on their business cards so that you can just photograph it and then get the contact information into your address book. Kinda Cool.


Where all of these sorts of innovation fall down is using them just for the sake of it. You’ve got to ask yourself that question, “wouldn’t it just be simpler to…?”. For example just taking a disposable photo of an address instead of bluetoothing it to my phone – see my previous post on Photonotes.

So I was puzzled to see this Nike site with a QR code on it:

I’ve sat and thought about it. In fact I’m still thinking about it….I’m sure I’m missing out on something because I don’t read Japanese. But in the best case it’s going to add something to my phone (a graphic, an application, a screensaver, a bit of video?) or, and I really hope this isn’t the case, it takes my phone to a web page. But either way surely getting someone to use their phone to do something when they’re already engaged on a website seems a bit odd.
Or even more bizarrely… If someone was accessing this website on their phone (as many people in Japan do). How are they supposed to take a photo of this QR code?!?!

Please can someone Japanese put me out of my ignorant misery, please. I’d love to know why this is there.

8 thoughts on “Website with Semacode, Why?”

  1. Hi,
    I am trying to make it a bit clearer for you. Tell me if it does.

    You say:
    “But either way surely getting someone to use their phone to do something when they’re already engaged on a website seems a bit odd.”

    Hey, if this would be the case, why would you have an RSS link on your blog, isn’t it? The QR Code on a website normally brings you to the mobile version of a site – this site is most often not exactly the same as the web version.

    The behaviour is as follows (try it out with the Kaywa Reader at You scan the code which is resolved immediately on the phone and this way you have bookmarked it in the QR Code Reader’s history. You can then access it anytime, anywhere.

    QR Codes simply make it very easy to access anything directly via mobile phone.
    That’s why in Japan it’s in such a widespread use. It’s more powerful then SMS I would say.

    PS: Some examples which make maybe a bit more sense:

    Get a mobile version of your blog with QR Code at:

    Create your SMS, Telephone Number, Text, URL via QR Code at

  2. Hi Roger

    Thanks v. much for that. It does make it a bit clearer. I think the RSS analogy is a good one. I guess you could use it to take a ‘clipping’ of a site, subscribe to a feed of it, or even just bookmark it…

  3. The codes are also used for promotional offers – like coupons. So maybe Nike are saying – take this along to a store or some other Nike event. Also, in Japan the phones have special readers to take the information from screens, posters or instore, which we don’t have yet. I understand Nokia are testing them on the N-series.

  4. My ex-student Karl (who speaks Japanese and whose work is worth a look) says this:

    >It says ‘You can also access this site on your cellphone’.
    >Yeah those things on websites always make me wonder.

    >I have had one on my card for the last year but no one uses it at all!
    >But for things like billboards and printed maps they could be pretty useful.

  5. A mate of mine was lucky enough to play at the Fuji Festival last year and said that semacodes were everywhere. Each performing artist had a page in the programme and at the bottom was a semacode which would purchase a track buy the artist and beam it straight to your phone.

    Along with this, the merchandise stalls had all the available apparel pinned up on big boards above the stand with large semcodes next to them. People in the queue would scan the codes for the items they wanted, and when they reached the front of the queue were presented with the goods they’d bought.


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