When it comes to pranks – as when it comes to pretty much everything else in the virtual world and beyond – Google are in a league of their own.
Their April Fools' Day japes and jokes are deservedly recognized for their humor and intelligence, for one. They've been playing them since the start of our young century, and this year's offerings didn't disappoint. A 2012 list that includes Google Maps "re-launched" with retro Nintendo 8-bit graphics, a "click-to-teleport" extension on Google Chrome, and the Really Advanced Search showed that the Internet monolith hasn't lost any of its nous in the viral marketing department.
However smart it may be, though, at times even the king of tricksters that is Google can get caught out.
Whether played for comedic or political purposes, or for the sake of anarchy pure and simple, these pranks clearly show that the world at large can play the team from Mountain View, CA at their own game.
Here, then, are the 10 most outrageous pranks played on Google to date. Snigger.
10. Facebook QR Code Vs. Google Earth
A notorious prank played on the mighty Google in 2012 came courtesy of pretenders to the throne in the online world, Facebook, whose employees painted an enormous 42-foot-square QR code on the roof of their new Silicon Valley HQ.
When scanned into a smart phone, the code loads fbco.de (FB Code) into the browser, which for now just shows a "coming soon" icon but could potentially be a place for all sorts of Internet tomfoolery.
A truly audacious hack from the big G's rival for dominance on the online display ad market, it won't be long before the giant interactive barcode makes its way onto Google Maps, possibly paving the way for the service to be overrun with similarly scan-able free pieces of promotion. In the end, all you need is a big pot of paint, a large roof, and some willing hands.
9. Fake Google Screamer
It looks like the Google Search page, but looks can be deceiving…
A truly terrifying example of a joke at Google's expense, this clever ruse is so shocking, we can't show a screenshot of what happens when you type a search in this trickster-like imposter site for fear it might scare you to death!
Let this be a health warning, however: be prepared! This prank is fun and certainly outrageous in it's own way – but the real victim of its deception could just as easily be your friends!
8. Weapons Of Mass Destruction Google Bomb
Image via: Chestofbooks
Pranking where Google becomes at least part of the target can often take on a political edge.
This famous example came not long after the invasion of Iraq by America and her allies on grounds that Saddam Hussein was holding weapons of mass destruction. (As it turned out, of course, this was not the case; no such weapons were ever found.)
The landmark "Google bomb" makes its point eloquently clear. Searching for the words "weapons of mass destruction" returned the pictured prank page (pictured) as the first result, taking web users to the brilliant parody of the browser error message. Created by English pharmacist Anthony Cox in 2003, the spoof 404-error page went viral and, thanks to the work of bloggers linking the offending keywords to Cox's site, tricked Google's page rank algorithm into "thinking" the prank page was the most relevant result for the search query.
As such, it wasn't just a smart satirical attack the Bush administration (and an inspiration to aspiring political pranksters everywhere) but like other Google bombs, also a challenge to Google's rules of the game.
7. Scuba Google Street View Prank
Image: Google via News.com
Arguably the funniest joke Google became the butt of was brought to us by two Norwegian men native to the coastal city of Bergen.
In the summer of 2010, Borre Erstad and Paul Age Olsen received a tip-off that Google Street View vehicles were in town and decided to give one of the roving invaders a rather surreal welcome.
After patiently waiting for the van, the two jokers – dressed in scuba gear and wielding with pitchforks, naturally – sprung into action and began pursuing the vehicle.
The pictures only made it onto the mapping service when it was upgraded in 2011, but the pranksters deny any collusion with the Internet giant (and the fact that their images have since been blurred out lends credence to their claim).
"It was meant in fun, but we never imagined it would get such a tremendous attention," said Erstad.
Whatever their motivations, the stunt certainly got the pair noticed! As proof that Google can sometimes be vulnerable to a good prank, it doesn't get much better than this.
6. Google Trends 9/11 Prank
Image: Google via The Mike Abundo Effect
For those not in the know, Google Trends tracks the search engine's most popular searches on any given day, comparing the frequency with which terms get entered with search volumes across the globe.
Another prank – this one with a more nihilistic political edge – made use of this particular feature of the Internet colossus's services.
In 2009, a Wingdings font depiction of what looks like an airplane flying into the Twin Towers made it onto the number two spot on the hot searches list.
It's unclear exactly who was behind it, but if it was a deliberate reference to 9/11, we think you'll agree it represents a rather distasteful joke indirectly at Google's expense.
The big G explained a previous case of a swastika appearing on Google Trends as being the result of a spike in searches due to its having been posted on a popular forum.
5. Google Car Tracked In Berlin?
Image via: Geek.com
Street View is to many a glorious piece of Google technology that can make our lives on the whole simpler and more convenient.
Getting one's bearings in an unfamiliar city becomes easier after taking a look at the panoramic results of the project, launched in 2007.
Yet not everyone takes kindly to what is sometimes perceived as an invasion of privacy.
Members of the art and open source media group Free Art and Technology (FAT) took their arguments to the source in early 2010 when they stuck a GPS tracking receiver to a Google Street View Camera Car in Berlin. Or said they did.
Reports stated that the group was then able to track the car as it drove around the German capital photographing the streets, and it was even claimed that others got in on the act, with the vehicle treated to a number of alarming sights, including swearing and nudity.
However, all this said, it now appears the prank was itself a hoax, as Google declared the Street View Car was in fact a fake. Still, in view of the exposure it gained, we'd still argue the joke was on Google.
4. Miserable Failure Google Bomb
Love him or loathe him, George W. Bush certainly attracted a lot of attention during his time in office – much of it unwanted, almost as much of it his own doing. In the media as a whole, the 43rd President of the United States was a constant target for jokes and general tomfoolery – so why should it have been any different on the Internet?
Back in 2006, if you entered the words "miserable failure" into Google's search engine you would have been greeted by a strange result: a biography of the then-President on the White House's official website. Another piece of political Google bombing, it was an example of the practice that truly captured the world's attention – though Google later algorithmically "defused" the bomb that made it look almost as foolish, if not quite as much of a failure, as "Dubya" himself.
The technique of gaming Google to give web pages high rankings for seemingly unrelated searches has its roots in the early Noughties, and the term Google bombing is itself credited to blogger Adam Mathes, who in 2001 linked the words "talentless hack" to a friend's site.
3. Google News Presidential Race Prank
If there's one time for pranks it is of course April 1st.
As we all know, Google themselves are fond of joking around on April Fools' Day, but what they'd probably sooner keep quiet is the fact that they can be duped just as well.
Take the following example from 2012. The respected service that is Google News reported that President Obama's only obstacle in the upcoming presidential race, Mitt Romney, was pulling out of the elections and throwing his support behind rival Rick Santorum (who has himself since ended his own campaign).
Google picked up the fictitious story from Forbes and only realized their error once it was already too late. The big G's news algorithm apparently placed the "Romney Drops Out of Race, Endorses Santorum" headline among its hottest breaking-news stories, and it was only after the business magazine unpublished the prank piece that it dropped off Google's radar, allowing blushes to fade. It just goes to show: always check your facts!
2. Firefox Crop Circle On Google Maps
Google Maps is, it is fair to say, a wonderful tool. It has become an invaluable service since its launch in 2005 and is used by millions of people planning their routes or simply scanning the globe every single day.
This leaves it wide open to the wiles of would-be jokers, however. Yes, with the world as their stage, pranksters can have a fine old time exploiting the all-seeing eye of the application.
Take, for example, this pseudo-mysterious crop circle: but of course, it's no ordinary pattern flattened into a field by hands, alien or otherwise.
Representing the logo of one of Google's major web browser rivals, the Firefox crop circle appeared in an Oregon cornfield in 2006. It was created by the Oregon State University Linux Users group to cover an area of over 45,000 square feet. As a celebration of Firefox's 50 millionth download – and a spot of free advertising on Google Maps – it was hard to top. Sly like only a fox could be.
1. Seagull Photobombing Google Street View
Image: Google via Huffington Post
Here's proof that animals – we presume unwittingly – can get involved in ensuring the joke is on Google, too.
This seagull invading the shot taken by a Street View camera in John Street, Brighton, England, is yet another way in which things can be made to go slightly askew in the Googleverse! Hilarious! The bird, complete with food in beak, quickly became a star in 2010 as Google's problems with their vehicles being mobbed in Europe continued.
It seems citizens avian as well as human are concerned about Google's increasing invasion of their privacy – not least through Street View's ever more ubiquitous and close-focus capturing of images. The way to fight back? Pranking, of course!
Bonus: The Googlewhack
For those who've been living in Outer Mongolia for the past ten years, the now well-known phenomenon known as the Googlewhack happens when a search for two words produces precisely one hit. Pretty rare in any case, they also don't last long once known about because, naturally, as soon as they're published on a website, the number of hits will increase to two – one for the hit, and one for the site on which the 'whack is divulged.
In 2003, the British comedian Dave Gorman (pictured) created an entire act around the Googlewhacking craze, as well as writing best-selling book. The search-engine obsession came to Gorman while working on a novel. He never finished the work of fiction, but he did end up with a successful book based on his experiences of traveling the globe finding the authors of Googlewhacks.
Is the joke really on Google here? Maybe not directly – but Gorman and the folks at Googlewhack.com have clearly had some fun. What's more, the search engine giant did get egg in its eye when Googlewhack.com discovered that "results 1-1 of thousands" were thrown up for relatively common word combos like "anxiousness scheduler" – a result of the sporadic "cleaner girl" bug in the big G's search algorithm.