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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).

2000: Mentalplex

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.)

2002: PigeonRank

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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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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