Google’s new logo is a barcode which, as far as we can tell, says “Google.” Today is the 57th anniversary of the first patent on the bar code. Inventors Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver filed the patent on October 1949, and it was granted, No. 2,612,994 (pdf), on October 7, 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 (see this interesting article for more history).
The barcode on the Google homepage is Code 128 encoded, which is a standard way of encoding ASCII character strings (ie. A-Z, a-z, 0-9, etc.) into a barcode. It would be safe to assume that Google used their own open source barcode project, ZXing, to generate the barcode. The same library is used in Android for barcode recognition.
The barcode is a technical innovation that has become an often unnoticed, yet essential, part of modern day life. The format is a global standard, where a scanner from any manufacturer can interpret almost any conforming barcode from anywhere (assuming it can interpret the encoding format – which is UPC in the case of products, and Code128 or something else for other applications, depending). The barcode is a great example of why uniform protocols and standards serve a greater good for everybody, and the same lesson certainly applies to the web.
We had to double check that the barcode in this instance was correct (some of the geeks here insist the barcode isn’t 100% correct), since Google has previously messed things up when they try and talk geek dirty.
Google regularly changes its logo for holidays and other special events. Here’s their 10th birthday logo from last year, for example. More recently they celebrated Gandhi’s birthday. Google hosts some of their holiday logos here, and fan created logos here.