Google just announced 2Dbarcodes for print ads, which prompted Joel to talk about the :CueCat, which was a large failure in the late 1990's. Wired Magazine sent you these barcode readers shaped like cats with this one issue. The idea was that you could scan barcodes in print ads, and given the URL encoded in the barcode, it'll take you there in your browser. I can hear wails of people going, "now why would I want to do that?" Of course, that's from a lack of imagination.
Now, ideas are brilliant or stupid only in the right context. Joel is correct about his assessment of the :CueCat. However, there are instances where it works and is in widespread use.
Japanese print ads have 2D barcodes on them. Even blogs and webpages have 2D barcodes, so you can access information (URL or otherwise) from your phone.
There are a couple things different there. Most Japanese peoples' access to the internet has been through their cell phones, rather than through their computers. Landlines are much more expensive than having a cell phone. In addition, the majority of Japanese are in urban areas where they use public transportation. That gives them a lot of down time to play with their phones. The print ads in the train have the 2D bar codes on them, so people can check out the ad while they're riding the train. Given that unless you have a full keypad (real or virtual), it's still harder typing in a phone, than using a 2D barcode.
That said, I don't think Americans (Don't know about europe) will find as much use for 2D barcodes for print ads, as we drive everywhere. The tech world has changed a lot since the :Cuecat was around, so I think most of the right players are in place for 2D barcodes. I don't think having 2Dbarcodes in newspapers makes sense. It makes much more sense for print ads, you can see on the street in strictly urban areas, like New York City.
If I'm walking around town, I'd find it very handy to be able to check out how many tickets are left for a show and being able to buy tickets for the show from the URL in a 2D barcode on the print ad for a show across town. It would also be useful if sewn onto tags of pillows, clothing, other products, etc, so that would provide product information, or at least a URL that has the manual, or specs. That way, if some piece were broken, it'd be an easy way to order replacement parts.
I think it's a tiny, tiny step into tying the real world with the virtual, and part of the move to form a Clickable Earth.