April Fools! The Crazy History Of YouTube & Google Pranks

It’s April 1—That magical day that pranksters love and prankees hate.  A day when web surfers the world over have learned to expect the bizarre on all of their favorite websites, especially Google and YouTube.  That’s right, Google and YouTube have a long history of April Fools hoaxes and we’re here to take you back through the years to explore some of the best pranks, starting with this year—April Fools 2011!

Before getting to the pranks, we should note that going back through the years Google has run a huge number of April Fools campaigns in all different parts of the world and across all of its products (from Gmail to Wave to Translate and everything in between).  Here we are focusing on the best of the best when it comes to Google and YouTube hoaxes.  If we’ve missed your favorite Google hoax, feel free to share it with us in the comments.

April Fools 2011

YouTube

The first thing that you’ll notice if you head over to YouTube today is the shiny new vintage YouTube 2011 logo.  Head over to the YouTube Blog and you’ll get the full story—it’s YouTube’s 100th anniversary today!  “It’s hard to believe that just a century ago, YouTube was a fledgling video site for paupers and presidents alike.  Today, we celebrate 100 years of YouTube, and we thought we would reflect on our inaugural year with a re-print of our first blog post from 1911.”  In addition to the joke on the YouTube Blog, the video site has released a video compilation of the Top 5 Viral Pictures of 1911.

Additionally, you’ll notice that the YouTube video player features an extra ‘1911’ button today, which brings you back to classic 1911 YouTube (well, if YouTube would have actually been around back then).  The videos turn an old, grainy sepia tone and the soundtrack is replaced with old-time piano ragtime music.

Oh, YouTube…you’re so silly.

Google

Google has got a few April Fools hoaxes this year.  They are advertising a hilarious new job position for Autocompleter—the psychic who types lightning-fast to provide the autocomplete instant search results.

Google also announced Gmail Motion today, a new way to communicate without your mouse and keyboard.  Gmail Motion lets you control your Gmail with your body!  Check out the video below.

Additionally, Google Chrome introduced Chromercise, a new workout routine for your fingers that will help your hands keep up with the amazing speed of Google Chrome.  ”Buy that porcelain donkey!!”

And the good news is, April Fools Day 2011 is only getting started.  We may see more funny hoaxes from Google and YouTube before the day’s end.

April Fools 2010

YouTube

Last year for April Fools YouTube added a new quality setting to some videos—the TEXTp setting.  When users chose this setting (as opposed to 240p, 360p, 480p, etc.) the video was overlaid with text.  A notice beneath the videos stated that if users viewed at this quality setting it would save YouTube $1 per second on bandwidth costs.  Check it out in the video below.

Google

In March of 2010, Topeka, Kansas temporarily changed their name to “Google” because they wanted to gain a spot in a new broadband fiber-optics project that Google was working on.  Google responded by temporarily changing its name to “Topeka” on April 1, 2010.  They changed their logo for the day and posted about the name change on the company blog.

Google also launched Google Translate For Animals on April 1, 2010.  They announced, “We are excited to introduce Translate for Animals, an Android application which we hope will allow us to better understand our animal friends.”  The video demo for the app has been viewed over 1.3 million times in the last year.

These days it seems like everything is in 3D and in 2010 Google Books played on that by introducing 3D Books! on April Fools Day.  Readers that had a pair of 3D glasses could click a new ‘View in 3D’ button when they visited Google Books and read like never before—in 3D!

April Fools 2009

YouTube

In 2009, YouTube turned things upside down for April Fools Day, literally.  Users visiting the page found that the layout was turned on its head.  Of course, they had the option to go back to the normal, right-side up layout.  Check out what it looked like in the video below.

Google

On April 1, 2009, Google announced CADIE, an acronym for ‘Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity’, the “world’s first “artificial intelligence” tasked-array system.”  Google Mobile also launched Brain Search, which “uses CADIE technology to index your brain to make your thoughts and memories searchable,” and even Google Analytics reported on CADIE’s activities.  Shortly after CADIE was announced, she said goodbye on her blog.

Find out more about Google’s 2009 April Fools hoaxes on the Google Operating System unofficial Google news blog.

April Fools 2008

YouTube

On April 1, 2008 YouTube played the infamous Rickroll prank on YouTubers everywhere.  All of the videos features on the YouTube homepage linked to a video of Rick Astley’s song, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’.  This was the first YouTube April Fools hoax, and won’t soon be forgotten.

Google

While YouTube was busy Rickrolling everyone, Google was busy working on their new collaboration with the Virgin Group—Virgle.  The goal of Project Virgle was to build a permanent human settlement on Mars.  People who were interested in signing up to be a Virgle pioneer were invited to answer a questionnaire, which included questions such as “I (like/dislike/utterly loathe/would be willing to endure) algae (as food).”

Google also announced the Google Wake Up Kit, a new solution to the problem many people have of getting out of bed in the morning.  “The “wake up” notification uses several progressively more annoying alerts to wake you up.  First it will send an SMS message to your phone.  If that fails, more coercive means will be used.  The kid includes an industrial-sized bucket and is designed to be connected to your water main for automatic filling.  In addition, a bed-flipping device is included for forceful removal from your sleeping quarters.”  Users who clicked to ‘Learn More’ were directed to a Google search for “April Fools”.

And like Google Books announced a 3D feature in 2010, they introduced a new scratch ‘n sniff feature in 2008.  Google’s Orkut also changed their logo to ‘Yogurt’ for the day.

April Fools 2007

On April Fools Day in 2007, Google announced their new free in-home wireless broadband service—TiSP.  Google TiSP was an acronym for “Toilet Internet Service Provider”.  Basically, TiSP was said to be a free new wireless service that was installed by flushing it down the toilet.

They also announced Gmail Paper, a new service that allowed users of Gmail to add e-mails to a paper archive, which would be printed out and sent to your home.  FAQs are answered on the Gmail Paper info page.  “Is it free? Yes.  The cost of postage is offset with the help of relevant, targeted, unobtrusive advertisements, which will appear on the back of your Gmail Paper prints in red, bold, 36 pt Helvetica.  But what about the environment?  Not a problem.  Gmail Paper is made out of 96% post-consumer organic soybean sputum.”

On April 1, 2007 Google also changed up their Page Not Found page to a special April Fools version, “The requested URL was not found on this server.  There are so many reasons that this might have happened we can scarcely bring ourselves to type them all out.  You might have typed the URL incorrectly, for instance.  Or (less likely but certainly plausible) we might have coded the URL incorrectly.  Or (far less plausible, but theoretically possible, depending on which ill-defined Grand Unifying Theory of physics one subscribes to), some random fluctuation of the space-time continuum might have produced a shatteringly brief but nonetheless real electromagnetic discombobulation which caused this error page to appear.”

April Fools 2006

On April 1, 2006, Google announced Google Romance, a new approach to online dating, stating, “When you think about it, love is just another search problem.  And we’ve thought about it.  A lot.  Google Romance is our solution.”  Google Romance was a parody of online dating.  Find out more on the FAQ page.

April Fools 2005

For their April Fools hoax in 2005 Google got into the beverage business, introducing their new fictitious drink, Google Gulp.  The Google Gulp was said to increase your intelligence, allowing you to use the Google search engine much more effectively.  “Think a DNA scanner embedded in the lip of your bottle reading all 3 gigabytes of your base pair genetic data in a fraction of a second, fine-tuning your individual hormonal cocktail in real time using our patented Auto-Drink technology, and slamming a truckload of electrolytic neurotransmitter smart-drug stimulants past the blood-brain barrier to achieve maximum optimization of your soon-to-be-grateful cerebral cortex.  Plus, it’s low in carbs!”

April Fools 2004

In 2004, Google listed new job opportunities at their Copernicus Center…on the moon!  Click here to check out the job opportunities at the Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in Search Engineering (G.C.H.E.E.S.E.).

April Fools 2002

Back in 2002, Google took April Fools Day as an opportunity to tell the world about PigeonRank, their PageRank system that employs pigeons to help rank pages so that searchers can find the right results when they search using Google.  The provide information about their PigeonRank system here.

“When a search query is submitted to Google, it is routed to a data coop where monitors flash result pages at blazing speeds.  When a relevant result is observed by one of the pigeons in the cluster, it strikes a rubber-coated steel bar with its beak, which assigns the page a PigeonRank value of one.  For each peck, the PigeonRank increases.  Those pages receiving the most pecks, are returned at the top of the user’s results page with the other results displayed in pecking order.”

April Fools 2000

Finally, we head back to 2000 for Google’s first ever April Fools hoax—the MentalPlex.  The MentalPlex, a twirling red and blue spiral, let users search smarter and faster…with their minds.  Just stare at the MentalPlex and hold a mental image of what you want to search for and visualize yourself clicking within the MentalPlex circle.  Try it out on the Google MentalPlex homepage.

So, what is your favorite Google or YouTube April Fools hoax?  How do you think the 2011 April Fools pranks hold up to previous years?

Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times.  Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.

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