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Google loves a good joke, which is a pretty unusual trait for a gargantuan, multinational outfit. For more than a decade the company has been a purveyor of gags, pranks, hoaxes and Easter eggs -- hidden messages, jokes or features -- both inside its products and services, or elsewhere online. For an extensive list of Google's goofy antics, check out this Wikipedia page.
With Easter arriving the day before April Fools' Day this year, now seems like the ideal time for a visual tour of Google's best gags in recent years. This slideshow focuses on pranks and Easter eggs that are still available -- many are removed over time -- so you can check them out yourself.
Google's hoaxes are often quite elaborate. Many include phony product tours, press releases and even professional-looking promotional videos for such "new" services such as Google Romance with "Soulmate Search," Google Book Search with scratch and sniff, and Google Talk goes green, an April Fools' classic from 2008 in which Google pledged to temporarily cut CO2 emissions by transmitting users' messages in abbreviated "IM-speak."
So why does Google do it? For a variety of reasons, probably. Levity, particularly self-deprecating humor, can make a monolithic search giant seem a little more human and a little less threatening. Google management probably also sees value in allowing its staff to have fun by creating these gags, which the company's customers seem to enjoy as well. And because the pranks, hoaxes and Easter eggs generate regular media coverage -- yes, like this article -- for the company, they're an inexpensive source of positive publicity.
Furthermore, the gags may help Google maintain some of its irreverent start-up spirit, which generally fades as a company gets big and buttoned down, and loses its sense of fun.
Other tech companies do silly stuff too, of course, but few can match Google's dedication to goofiness. But maybe that's not so surprising when one of your co-founders routinely wears a pair of prototype computer spectacles in public.
The best Google pranks promise new features that are often impossible given today's technology, and yet strangely compelling. Care to know what zoo animals are thinking? Ready to travel to Mars in 2014? Google is on it.
But enough of the armchair psychology. Explore our slideshow to see Google's 10 best gags, pranks, hoaxes and Easter eggs. There are plenty of examples we had to leave out, so please add your favorites in the comments below.
Google was definitely ahead of that whole talking goat meme. Google Translate for Animals delves into Dr. Dolittle territory by allowing us to decipher barks, meows, moos, growls and other utterances from our non-human friends. And since it's a mobile app, you can bring Translate for Animals to wherever an animal is making noise -- backyard, barnyard, savannah or forest. Google says it worked closely with leading language synthesis mavens and "animal cognitive linguistics" experts to develop this groundbreaking app. And what if your pet's thoughts turn out to be, well, a bit dull-witted? Google recommends translating animals "higher up in the food chain" -- think cats, not hamsters -- for more enlightening banter. Sorry, iPhone users, Translate for Animals is Android only.
Smartphone keyboards -- physical or virtual -- are just too hard to use. All those icky keys to tap … isn't there an easier way? Yes, thanks to Gmail Tap, a Google breakthrough that brings back one of the 19th century's most prized innovations: Morse code. The benefits are substantial: Morse code replaces 26 keys with only 2, allowing you to tap and send messages without having to glance at the screen. Who knows, if Gmail Tap takes off, texting while driving may soon be legal.
Want to move to Mars next year? Project Virgle, a joint venture of Google and Virgin Group, will begin sending volunteers to the Red Planet in 2014. Touted as the first permanent human colony on Mars, Virgle will be led by Virgin founder Richard Branson and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The intrepid trio will lead hundreds of volunteers to start humanity's "Plan B" civilization, hopefully one with planet-wide free Wi-Fi, Google's acclaimed cafeteria food and plenty of sunscreen to block Mars' troublesome UV radiation. Applicants must complete Virgle's online questionnaire, which asks a series of probing questions, such as whether you'd be miffed by waiting up to 40 minutes for a response to Earthbound email. (If you don't get the joke, you're not ready for Mars.)
Digital technology is our future -- or is it? One Google prank claims the venerable rotary dial phone (look it up, kids) is making a comeback. Says the company's Go Ro site: "Millions of people are using mobile devices every day, but dozens are using rotary phones. Did you know that 100% of people using rotary phones have trouble accessing your website?" Next up on Google's analog agenda: A Bluetooth-enabled Victrola, and bloodletting as a biometric security feature.
Google Australia in 2009 decided to change Australian football forever by launching the revolutionary gBall, a GPS-enabled pigskin with artificial intelligence. Featuring embedded motion sensors to monitor a kick's force, location and torque, the gBall provides players with kicking tips and tutorials. Even better, it sends player data to sports agents and talent scouts, and vibrates when one of them is interested!
If you're wondering what makes this jockstatic tech possible, it's something called DENNIS (Dimensional, Elastic, Non-Linear, Network-Neutral, Inertial Sequencing), a "curvilenear parabolic approximation algorithm" that measures the gBall's accuracy, distance and trajectory. Yeah, whatever. Unfortunately, gBall lacks a force field to ward off concussions and ACL injuries. Maybe version 2.0?
Want a warm, fuzzy feeling when using Google's Picasa image editor? Simply press control-shift-y, and a cuddly teddy bear appears on screen. And for fans of other Google services, the Easter egg fun doesn't stop there. Creating a spreadsheet in Google Docs? Hit Shift+F12, and up pops a message that reads: "Dragon slain! Congratulations, you've slain the dragon!" Here's one more: When wordy Google Voice users exceed the character limit when typing text messages, the character counter above the text window snarkily asks, "Really?"
On April Fool's Day last year, the Google Voice Blog had a very special post that almost certainly warmed the hearts of many pet owners -- well, the stupid ones, anyway. You see, Google launched an innovative new service called Google Voice for Pets that allowed dogs and cats to send audio and text messages to their adoring caretakers.
Google achieved this astonishing feat by developing a so-called Voice Communication Collar that uses "technology originally developed for NASA astronauts" to record audio messages from your pet's vocal cords. Wi-Fi then uploads the messages to your Google Voice account. Even better, Google's transcription engine translates those growls and meows into English. Sorry, other languages aren't supported -- yet.
Pegman is your tour guide through Google Maps' Street View images. When you drag the clothespeg-shaped icon onto a Maps' location, a street-level view appears (if available). But sometimes Pegman gets a little crazy and changes his attire for special events and select locations. At the Legoland California theme park in Carlsbad, for instance, Pegman transforms into a Lego character. At Sun Valley, Idaho, he becomes a skier. And at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York, he's a tennis player.
YouTube has long been a target of Google's Easter egg hijinks. Here's one you can try: Type "do the harlem shake" in a desktop computer browser and enjoy the show. You see, the search results page does the Harlem Shake for your amusement! Warning: This particular Internet meme has already enjoyed most its 15 minutes of fame, so check out this Easter egg before it's gone.
Go to the landing page for the 2013 Google I/O developer's conference in San Francisco. When you click the large "I" and "O" in specific sequences, you'll unlock a variety of alternative landing pages with whimsical graphics and sound effects. For instance, enter "10010000" to experience the bacon and eggs screen, or "IIIOOIII" to encounter the feline frenzy (both shown here). For plenty of other examples, check out The Next Web's article on this topic and scroll down to the discussion section for reader-supplied sequences.