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April Fools' Day gag roundup

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

Once a year, technology companies and some outlets that cover them exercise their license to publish a hoax story (or two, if you're Google) on the advent of April 1. This year was no exception – and in one case the gag may have been so good that it could be viewed as backfiring.

Google is probably the best known company that has a little fun with odd or unusual stories. This year – in a play on speculation about the volumes of optical fibre the internet search giant has been buying for about two years – the company announced it would be providing free, high-speed wireless internet access through its Project Teaspoon:

Google TiSP (BETA) is a fully functional, end-to-end system that provides in-home wireless access by connecting your commode-based TiSP wireless router to one of thousands of TiSP Access Nodes via fiber-optic cable strung through your local municipal sewage lines....TiSP is available today in the U.S. and Canada. Google has formed an international consortium of utility companies, sewage system experts, toilet manufacturers, and plumbers to develop solutions to the many problems facing all "dark porcelain"-based data-delivery innovators....To offset the cost of providing the TiSP service, we use information gathered by discreet DNA sequencing of your personal bodily output to display online ads that are contextually relevant to your culinary preferences, current health status and likelihood of developing particular medical conditions going forward.

The company also announced it would be launching Gmail Paper, which promised to print and snail mail Gmail messages to you with the click of a button:

Everyone loves Gmail. But not everyone loves email, or the digital era. What ever happened to stamps, filing cabinets, and the mailman? Well, you asked for it, and it’s here. We’re bringing it back.

A New Button
Now in Gmail, you can request a physical copy of any message with the click of a button, and we'll send it to you in the mail.

Simplicity Squared
Google will print all messages instantly and prepare them for delivery. Allow 2-4 business days for a parcel to arrive via post.

However, not everything Google says on April 1 is a gag. The company announced its popular Gmail free, web-based e-mail service on the day in 2004, and in 2005 began testing Ride Finder.

I called Sunny Gettinger, the media contact listed on the Google TiSP press release (yes, that's her real name; I have spoken with her on other occasions about Google's activities) and her outgoing voicemail greeting said she is out of the office for a few days – doubtless to avoid the inquiries of credulous callers.

UPDATE: Google responded to my inquiry late Monday night and said they will not offer any further comment:

As a company, Google thrives on new and innovative ideas. Some of these ideas end up on Google Labs and maybe even eventually come out of beta, and some of these ideas end up in the hands of our expert April Fools team. TiSP is one of the latter category of ideas, but that doesn't mean it's out of the realm of possiblity. Larry Page dreamed up TiSP, and we believe it can be done, but probably not on April 1. Happy Flushing!

But Google wasn't the only company that had a prank.

Voice over internet service Skype – whose founders are now focusing their efforts on TV/online video chimera Joost – changed its home page to announce it was introducing Skype for Cows, featuring "Unlimited calls to any cow worldwide free. Calls to people for chicken feed"

The press release, which has been removed from the site quoted U.S. general manager Don Albert:

With more than 100 million cows in the United States alone, it is a market opportunity we could no longer ignore. One in four Americans is a cow and now they can use Skype.

And social networking site du jour Facebook (whose intermittent reinforcement reward system has been sucking members of the Canadian media and related people into its Skinner box of late) said it was going to dispatch people to turn the Poke feature into a physical experience, introducing this blurb into users' news feeds:

Facebook introduces "LivePoke"

Introducing LivePoke™!
Facebook will dispatch a real live person today to poke a friend of your choice.*
*offer good for only the first 100 pokers in each network.

But in the year's weirdest and possibly most effective hoax – in part because buzz began before April Fools Day as part of a serious sales bid – startup blog TechCrunch announced it was buying F---edCompany.com (FC), which chronicled the dotcom bust and has since evolved to track corporate screwups.

FC founder Phil "Pud" Kaplan explains the chain of events in his blog.

And finally, in an April Fools joke for hardcore techies that sucked in Wired, a document purported to show the iPhone's OSX software architecture was "leaked" to a document sharing site.

Oh, those wacky technophiles!

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