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The Internet's best April Fools gags

Google+ announced Auto Awesome Photo Bombs with David Hasselhoff, a tool by which everyone's favorite knight-riding, lifeguarding Teutonic crooner may magically appear in photos they upload to the site.
Credit: Courtesy Google+

The April fool's joke that changed tech history
By Will Oremus
(c) 2014, Slate.
NEW YORK — By 2004, Google had already become well-known for its April Fool's pranks. That year, it appeared to up the ante, with not just one but two suspiciously improbable announcements. The first was a posting for job openings on the moon. The second was that the search company was launching a free email service that would offer users, not one or two megabytes, but 1,000 megabytes of storage. If that were true, it would mean the average user would never have to delete an email again.

The joke, of course, is that it wasn't a joke at all. Gmail was a real product, and it really did offer multiple orders of magnitude more storage than Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, the leading competitors at the time. But it took the tech press a while to figure that out, according to Georges Harik, director of Google's in-house startup incubator at the time. "Journalists would call us and say, 'We need to know if you're just kidding, or if this is real,' " Harik recalled to Time's Harry McCracken. "That was fun."

In most people's eyes, it was actually a PR blunder, reported Steven Levy in his 2011 book "In the Plex." But Google co-founder Sergey Brin never saw it that way. "Even years later, Brin still relished the reverse spin — tricking people by not hoaxing," Levy wrote. Early Gmail product manager Brian Rakowski also remembers Brin being tickled by the move. "The ultimate April Fool's joke was to launch something kind of crazy on April 1st and have it still exist on April 2nd," Rakowski told McCracken.

Hilarious? Well, that depends on whether you share Brin's lopsided sense of humor. But if introducing Gmail wasn't the funniest thing Google has ever done on April 1, it was certainly the most important. For Google, it was a turning point on the path from a scrappy Web-search startup to the world's largest Internet company by market cap. For the rest of us, it revolutionized not only email but how we thought about cloud storage and Web apps.

Ten years on, Google's rivals have copied Gmail so thoroughly that it's hard to remember just how terrible webmail was before Gmail came along. Pages were clunky and slow to load, search functions were terrible, and spam was rampant. You couldn't organize messages by conversation. Storage capacity was anemic, and if you ran out of space, you had to spend hours deleting old emails or buy more storage from your provider. Gmail, which was designed using Ajax rather than plain old HTML, taught us that Web apps could run as smoothly as desktop applications. And it taught us the power of cloud storage.

Yet as McCracken explains in his excellent Time story on Gmail's origins, it didn't happen quite the way we all misremember. Gmail is routinely cited as a prime example of a project that sprang from Google's famous employee perk, "20-percent time," which allowed workers to spend one-fifth of their work week on projects of personal interest. Not so, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit told McCracken. "It was an official charge" from the start, he said. "I was supposed to build an email thing."

Levy's book backs up that claim. In 2001, Buchheit was removed from product-management in the company's great middle-management purge, and opted to focus instead on building a webmail service. Brin and Page were excited about the idea from the start. That said, it was never a sure thing that the product would come to fruition: It was initially code-named Project Caribou, a reference to a famous Dilbert boondoggle.

- - -

Oremus is a Slate staff writer, reporting on technology and digital culture.

Doug Gross


(CNN) -- A new digital map helps you find the Pokemon among us. YouTube made a shocking confession, Samsung and HTC advanced the world of wearable tech with souped-up gloves and you'll never have to take another lonely selfie, thanks to The Hoff.

It must be April Fool's Day on the Internet.

In what's become an annual tradition, the tech world embraced the tomfoolery of April 1 with all the gusto you'd expect from clever geeks with time on their hands between hackathons. And the results this year were solid.

As usual, Google led the cheeky charge with a spate of gags spanning its many Web and mobile services.

First came the rollout of Pokemon Challenge, which turns the iOS and Android versions of Google Maps into a big version of the classic "catch 'em all" video and card games. According to the gag -- or are they serious? It's so hard to tell today -- applicants who find all 25 Pokemon hidden around the world will be considered job finalists by Google and given the job title "Pokemon Master."

"It's always been important to us to have the most qualified employees at Google," Brian McClendon, the company's vice president in charge of Maps, says in a video. "Now, using the technology created by the Google Maps team, we've prepared the most rigorous test known to man to find the world's best Pokemon Master."

To play, users just need to open the newest version of Maps on their phone, tap the search bar and press start. The Google Maps accounts on Google+, Facebook or Twitter will be providing hints and tips.

Google+ announced Auto Awesome Photo Bombs with David Hasselhoff, a tool by which everyone's favorite knight-riding, lifeguarding Teutonic crooner may magically appear in photos they upload to the site.

Google Translate will now work with Emojis, the Chrome team announced, letting Web users who cling to those old-fashioned things called "words" know what these cheerfully annoying little icons mean. (Spoiler: A pair of clapping hands means "Yay!")

"If somebody were able to just explicitly say, 'Hey, I'm flirting with you' or 'Hey, I'm mocking you,' that would just make my life a lot more efficient," joked Emily Mee, head of market research for Google Mobile Insights, in a YouTube video.

And speaking of Google-owned YouTube, the site made a big April Fool's confession: All those viral videos? Fakes.

"Since 2005, YouTube's staff has worked tirelessly behind the scenes, meticulously crafting the viral videos and Internet memes you've come to know and love," the announcement reads. "From mainstream hits like Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake to your obscure web forum favorites, our staff of writers, producers and directors has shaped the pop culture moments that matter in our digital lives."

The announcement, in a YouTube video, naturally, lifts the lid on the videos that "we" will make popular in the coming year. Among them: Clocking, an only slightly more ridiculous cousin to planking, Butter Fails, i.e. YouTube users "hilariously ruining their bread when they try to spread cold butter on it," and Baby Shaming.

But Google weren't the only ones putting us on.

The gadgety folks at ThinkGeek rolled out a host of gag items, from a car charger powered by the flux capacitor from "Back to the Future" to a tie that fires lasers to Mr. Beard, a machine that will help you grow "Duck Dynasty"-level facial hair in mere moments.

Wearable tech is the big thing in the mobile world right now, and two big tech players advanced the game by moving mobile to your hands.

Samsung unveiled Samsung Fingers, which includes a flexible LED screen on your palm, a 16-megapixel camera on your finger and 5G connectivity. Meanwhile, HTC countered with the HTC Gluuv, which straps the new HTC One M8 to your forearm and provides the ability to "like" things on Facebook by giving an actual thumbs-up with your hand.

Airbnb announced that it's expanding into the professional world with AirBRB, which lets you rent desk space from fellow office workers around the world who may have just popped out for a cup of coffee or bathroom break.

And CERN, the European scientific-research organization credited with helping to launch the Web, announced that all its communications will be displayed from now on in the (much-mocked) font Comic Sans.

So, let us remind you that everything you read on the Internet Tuesday might not be true. In fact, that's advice that should maybe be heeded the other 364 days of the year, too.

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