Google visitors over the last couple of days were confronted with a rather ugly visual - the barcode, the ubiquitous symbol that one sees on most retail products these days. It was supposed to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the first patent on the bar code.
Inventors Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver filed the patent on 20 October 1949, and it was granted on 7 October, 1952. The original patent was for a system that would encode data in circles (a bulls eye pattern), so that it could be scanned in any direction. The lines of varying width were developed later, partly inspired by Morse code.
Google regularly changes its logo for holidays and other special events. For example, it recently celebrated Gandhi's birthday with a logo of the 'Mahatma' at his spinning wheel. But its latest logo looked so ugly that it was withdrawn by Thursday.
The barcode on the Google homepage was Code 128 encoded, which is a standard way of encoding ASCII character strings. Users who scanned it found that it simply read 'Google' in barcode terms.
The barcode may have its functions, but as a visual image it is undoubtedly ugly. It was famously trashed by 'Mad' magazine when it first became mandatory in the West around 1987. Mad striped its whole cover page with the black-and-white lines in protest.
The first product to bear the bar code was a packet of Wrigley's chewing gum. In June 1974, a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum was the first product to be bar coded and was scanned on the first UPC scanner, made by NCR Corp (then called National Cash Register Co).
The pack of gum was not intended to be the first product with a bar code to be scanned. It just happened to be the first item lifted from the shoppers cart by a cashier and scanned.
Today, the pack of gum is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.