From the Actrix Online Informer April 2010

April Fool's Day on the web

by Rob Zorn

The web is a wonderful place to fool and be fooled on April Fool's Day.


And nobody does it better than Google. Google's massive audience and budget have meant it could produce some pretty elaborate and clever hoaxes on its millions of followers, including web pages for bizarre new fictitious products or technology.

In 2000, for example, they announced a new "MentalPlex" search technology that reads your mind to determine what you want to search for, so you don't have to type anything into the search field box. Instead, you remove your hat and glasses, peer into MentalPlex circle and project a mental image of what you want to find. Click (or visualise clicking) within the MentalPlex circle and guess where you were taken – to a page of April Fool's Day search links. MentalPlex came with a page of usage instructions and a very amusing Frequently Asked Questions page.

In 2002 Google explained the benefits of its pigeon technology – a cost-effective and efficient means of ranking pages. It reassured readers that there is no animal cruelty involved in the process.

2004 saw situations vacant announcements for jobs at a Google research centre on the moon, and in 2005 it announced the launch of Google Gulp, a drink that optimises one's use of the Google search engine by increasing the drinker's intelligence. In 2006 we had Google Romance, and in 2007 the Gmail Paper service which would print your emails on "96% post-consumer organic soybean sputum" and mail them via traditional post.

A personal favourite on mine was 2007's Google TiSP (short for Toilet Internet Service Provider) even though it was pushing the boundaries of taste and believability just  a tad. TiSP was a fictitious free broadband service that used a standard toilet and sewage lines to provide free Internet. To make it work you had to flush a weighted end of fibre-optic cable down the toilet. An hour later the end would be connected to the Internet by a "Plumbing Hardware Dispatcher (PHD)". The free service was to be supported by "discreet DNA sequencing" of "personal bodily output" to display online ads that relate to culinary preferences and personal health.

In 2008 Google released a flurry of gags including Scratch and sniff (Google Book Search now smells better!); Gday - a new beta search technology that would search web pages 24 hours before they are created; and a Wake-up kit that included annoying SMS messages, a bucket connected to your water supply and new bed-flipping technology. 

In 2008 Google also announced Project Virgle a joint endeavour with Virgin to start a human colony on Mars. The announcement included videos of Richard Branson (founder of Virgin Group) as well as Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google) on YouTube talking about Virgle. An application form to join the settlement includes questions such as:

I am a world-class expert in:

  1. Physics
  2. First Aid
  3. Engineering
  4. Guitar Hero II

In 2009 there was a similar array of April Fool's Day hoaxes including "Gmail Autopilot" which can analyse an email you're writing and adjust its tone, typo propensity, and preferred punctuation from the Autopilot tab under Settings. It was also able to respond to relationship related messages with a special "terminate relationship" function.

Google Mobile also launched Brain Search in 2009. The instructions: "Put phone to forehead for brain indexing" and "think your query". When you click "Try Now", a page loads with fake search results for the query you were thinking including:

  • What's the name of that woman by the window? She's my boss's boss, but, oh man, is it Suzanne? Susan? Blanche?
  • Should I order the pizza? I don't remember if it makes me gassy.
  • Why is everyone looking at me so strangely?


YouTube has also played jokes on its users on April Fool's Day. In 2008 it "rickrolled" everybody visiting its site. RickRolling is when someone puts a link on website that appears to be to something, but it actually takes you to a music video of Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up. On that day every video link in the user's featured or suggested videos section were rickrolls. I wonder how Astley feels about rickrolling.

2008 was the first time YouTube played an April Fool's Day prank, but it did it again in 2009 by promising a new "viewing experience" when users selected a video within certain areas such as the "Recommended for you" section. The new interface caused the whole layout, including the selected video to display upside down.  A page on "tips for viewing the new layout" suggested users hang their monitors upside down from the ceiling.

In 2008 the BBC released a very impressive documentary trailer on YouTube about a breed of flying penguins who migrate to the rain forests of South America in the winter to bask in the sun with toucans. Watch the video here.


There have been a fair few other good net-related April Fool's Day hoaxes. In 2009 The Guardian (UK) newspaper announced it was foregoing its print and online versions and, henceforward, would only be published on Twitter. After all, it quoted experts as saying, any story can be told in 140 characters. A massive project was also started "to rewrite the whole of the newspaper's archive, stretching back to 1821, in the form of tweets. Major stories already completed include "1832 Reform Act gives voting rights to one in five adult males yay!!!"; "OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see for more"; and "JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll." Read the story.

Last year Sitepoint announced that the Internet would be rebooted and would be down for about one minute. They said a global consortium of ISPs and technology companies had called for the action following several periods of instability over the past few years. Internet users were advised to back up their data and shut all their programs down. One technician involved reportedly said, "Anyone surfing the net or sending a large email attachment at 11.59 could easily electrocute one of my team." Read the story.

Also in 2009 Yahoo Research announced the release of Ideological Search, which would let users control the ideology of their search results for the first time in search technology history. "Until now, many Web search users were offended by the facts, pages, articles, and blogs in their search results that contradicted their own personal beliefs and values," the announcement said. It also said that the new technology meant search engines could no longer be accused of being politically biased. Read the story.

In 2008, in what can only be described as a global corporate merger that made sickening sense, McDonalds and Microsoft announced they were to merge into a new company called McSoft Inc. The core values the companies said they had in common were:

  • having a massive legal department so nobody can argue with us
  • always being right so nobody can argue with us
  • making obscene amounts of money so even if people do argue we can just laugh at them. Read the story.

In 1994 an article by John Dvorak in PC Computing magazine described a bill going through Congress that would make it illegal to use the internet while drunk. The bill was supposedly numbered 040194 (i.e. 04/01/94), and the contact person was listed as Lirpa Sloof (April Fools backwards). The article said that the FBI was going to use the bill to tap the phone line of anyone who "uses or abuses alcohol" while accessing the internet. The article generated so many outraged phone calls to Congress that Senator Edward Kennedy's office had to release an official denial of the rumour that he was a sponsor of the bill.

In 1997 message spread across the internet announcing the web would be shut down for cleaning for 24 hours from 31 March until 2 April. This cleaning would clear out the "electronic flotsam and jetsam" that had accumulated in the network. Dead e-mail and inactive ftp, www, and gopher sites would be purged. The cleaning would be done by "five very powerful Japanese-built multi-lingual Internet-crawling robots (Toshiba ML-2274) situated around the world."

In this article I've concentrated on April Fools stories that were Internet related, but, of course, there are lots of other great pranks you can read about at sites dedicated to April Fool's Day. Try The Museum of Hoaxes' Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time, for example. Another good one is April Fool's Day on the Web which categorises pranks by year. Click the 2010 link if you want to submit something you see on April Fool's Day this year for inclusion.



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