Internet marketers and video content producers already know that Tuesday is April Fools’ Day. Before the sun sets, we can expect to discover about two dozen April Fools’ Day pranks from Google and YouTube. And since there are more than 100 Official Google YouTube channels, many of these hoaxes will include a video. I’ve prepared this backgrounder to help you judge whether this year’s April Fools’ Day pranks by YouTube and Google are good, great, or the best ever.
April 1, 2008
Best: Although Google acquired YouTube in October 2006 (for $1.65 billion), the company and its video-sharing subsidiary didn’t start using videos in its annual tomfoolery until April 1, 2008. That’s when YouTube participated in Google’s April Fools' Day tradition for the first time. All the featured videos on YouTube’s homepages linked to “Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give You Up," causing all users of the website who clicked on featured videos to be “Rickrolled.”
Great: Meanwhile, the Blogger dashboard that day featured an announcement for Google Weblogs, or “GWeblogs,” or “Gblogs,” the next revolution in personal publishing. Features included algorithms posting directly into Google search results for maximum visibility and automatic content generation. (“Unsure of what to post about? Just click ‘I'm Feeling Lucky’ and we’ll ‘take care’ of the rest!”) The announcement was followed by a link to a video tour of the product, which actually led to “YOU GOT TAY ROLLED! ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ Karaoke By Tay Zonday.”
Good: Google also announced a joint project with the Virgin Group to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. This operation was named Project Virgle. The announcement included YouTube videos of Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, as well as Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, talking about Virgle.
April 1, 2009
Best: On April 1, 2009, the economy had entered the Great Recession and making funny videos didn’t seem to be as big a priority. Still, Google announced CADIE, a new “Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity,” on March 31, 2009, at 11:59 p.m. And CADIE already had her own YouTube channel and several videos, including one featuring a Panda (two years before the first Panda update was announced). The Panda, which had a female voice, said, “Hello.”
Great: Google Mobile also created a video that year which showed how CADIE technology had been harnessed to power “Brain Search through Google Mobile App.”
Good: YouTube gave some users a look at a new “viewing experience” when they selected a video within certain areas such as the “recommended for you” section. This new interface caused the whole layout including the video you were watching to flip upside down. A page on “tips for viewing the new layout” suggested users hang their monitors upside down from the ceiling.
April 1, 2010
Best: On April 1, 2010, there were a number of April Fools’ Day pranks, but only a few included videos. For example, Google UK introduced Translate for Animals (beta), an Android application that allowed humans “to better understand our animal friends.” The announcement included a modest little video entitled, “Introducing Google Translate for Animals.”
Great: After Topeka, Kansas, had unofficially renamed itself “Google” for a month as part of their pitch to be part of the Google Fiber network, Google announced on April 1, 2010, that it was swooping in to grab the searches for the term, Topeka, by renaming itself after city at the edge of the Great Plains.
Good: The logo of YouTube was overlaid with ASCII text repeating the character “1”. The YouTube logo was a reference to some videos having a new quality setting called “TEXTp”. As Patrick Pichette, SVP and Chief Financial Officer, Google, said on the Official YouTube Blog, “For every person who selects TEXTp and keeps it on while you watch a video, you save YouTube $1 a second, resulting in potentially billions of dollars of savings for us. So if you care about YouTube, you’ll use TEXTp today."
April 1, 2011
Best: On April 1, 2011, Google introduced Gmail Motion, which used “your computer’s built-in webcam and Google’s patented spatial tracking technology to detect your movements and translate them into meaningful characters and commands.” The announcement was accompanied by a video entitled, “Introducing Gmail Motion.”
Great: That day, a button was added to the YouTube video player which, when clicked, would apply a video filter to the video and replace the audio with a recording of Rhapsody Rag, a piece typically played as background music to silent movies in 1911. If subtitles were enabled when watching the video, intertitles were displayed containing the dialogue. The upload page also featured an option to “send a horse-drawn carriage to me to pick [the video] up.” In addition, YouTube unveiled the “Top 5 Viral Pictures of 1911.”
Good: Google also uploaded a video entitled, “Being a Google Autocompleter,” showing an employee explaining his job to potential employees.
April 1, 2012
Best: On April 1, 2012, Google Maps 8-bit for NES was finally launched. Although availability of Google Maps for 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment Systems (NES) was TBD, users could try it on their browser by going to Google Maps and clicking “Quest” in the upper right hand corner of the map.
Great: YouTube added a small disc on the right side of the YouTube logo, which when clicked leads to a page about a service called “The YouTube Collection.” It offered every YouTube ever uploaded on DVDs – dispatched in a fleet of 175 trucks. YouTube promoted the service with a video entitled, “The YouTube Collection: The Magic of YouTube in Your Hands.”
Good: Another video, “Introducing Gmail Tap," let users know that they could “Tap into the future of productivity with Gmail Tap for Android and iOS. Double your typing speed with this revolutionary new keyboard.”
April 1, 2013
Best: On March 31, 2013, Tom Liston, the Competition Director at YouTube, announced “YouTube’s ready to select the winner.” He said, “Tonight at midnight, YouTube.com will no longer be accepting entries." He added, “After eight amazing years, it is finally time to review everything that has been uploaded to our site and begin the process of selecting a winner.” In order to do that, the site would be shut down and YouTube wouldn’t return online until 2023 when users would finally be able to see what judges thought was the “Best Video” ever … and nothing else.
Great: Also uploaded on March 31, 2013, was a video “Introducing Gmail Blue.” It’s Gmail, only bluer. Why blue? Well, Google had experimented with a lot of different colors. They tried orange, brown (brown was a disaster), and yellow. The inspiration for blue came from nature. Ocean, sky, blue whales.
Good: Also uploaded on March 31, 2013, was another video “Introducing Google Nose.” Jon Wooly, the product manager, said, “We’re excited to announce our newest addition to Search: Google Nose. What do wet dogs smell like? Google Nose! How about victory? Google Nose! Try searching on Google for ‘wet dog’ and explore other smells that people sniffed for, or visit google.com/nose to learn more. Happy smelling!”
So, as you look for this year’s April Fools’ Day pranks, don’t be surprised if Google creates more than a dozen funny YouTube videos. Hey, the company paid $1.65 billion for the video-sharing website. It needs to recoup that investment somehow.