Out of respect for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Google abstained from its traditional April Fools’ Day tomfoolery during 2020 and 2021. Now in 2022, it appears the pandemic has ended a 20-year streak of online pranks. For this week’s Tech Time Warp let’s a look back at some of Google’s greatest hits (or misses, depending on your point of view).
Google’s first April Fools’ joke was Mentalplex, the “only search engine that accurately returns results without requiring you to enter a query,” designed to be “safer than traditional searching because it eliminates the need for typing.” (The Mentalplex FAQs are worth a read.)
To the delight of SEO experts, Google “revealed” its search engine secret in 2002: PigeonRank. Turns out Google results are especially useful because queries are routed to a data “coop” where flocks of domestic pigeons peck at the most relevant results—and that’s why results are displayed in “pecking order.”
2007: Gmail Paper
That co-worker who prints everything (it’s not you, is it?) would love Gmail Paper, a service that sends you physical copies of your email. Do allow two to four days for delivery, and be prepared for advertisements printed in “red, bold, 36-point Helvetica.” (Comic Sans would have taken the joke too far.)
2008: YouTube’s Rickroll
On April 1, 2008, Google-owned YouTube got in on the action, turning every video on its home page into a Rickroll. (Bonus link: other epic Rickrolls.)
2016: Gmail Mic Drop
One of 2016’s pranks didn’t make it through April Fools’ Day. Gmail Mic Drop drew such a backlash that Google turned it off in the wee hours of the morning. The feature—activated by clicking a button way too close to “Send”—allowed users to end an email chain with a microphone-dropping minion GIF.
2018: “Where’s Waldo” in Google Maps
In 2018, during the entire first week of April, Google Maps users could while away time searching for everyone’s favorite striped-sweater-and-stocking-cap aficionado.
Perhaps Google’s greatest prank was in 2004, when it chose April Fools’ Day for the invitation-only beta release of Gmail. More than 1.8 billion users later, Gmail is no joke.
Photo: Yevhenii Strebkov / Shutterstock
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