If the IT industry has a favourite holiday, April Fools' Day appears to be it.
As in past years, the day saw vendors as well as technology news sites releasing so many prank press releases and news stories that the front page of tech news aggregators such as Techmeme and Slashdot were dominated by joke headlines on Sunday morning, leading at least one observer to say enough is enough.
Search giant Google announced two new products for April Fools' Day, including one for a free home wireless broadband service that involves fibre-optic cable strung through city sewers. Users would need a "round-front or elongated toilet providing at least 1.0 gallons per flush," though the fibre-optic cable would not negatively affect the toilet’s operation. The free service would be supported by ads that would be targeted using "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 other alleged service is Google Paper, which lets Gmail users request printouts of their email that will be sent from Google to users via regular mail, arriving in two to four days. This free service is, like its omnipresent search engine, also supported by contextual "unobtrusive" ads that will appear on the back of the printed emails in 36-point Helvetica type.
Google's yearly celebration of April Fools' Day has become so entrenched, and the tech world's expectations of it so high, that at times it appears to be swallowing its own tail. Last year, Google claimed it was releasing a service called Google Romance that offered to match couples for free dates as long as they agreed to "experience contextually relevant advertising throughout the course of their evening." This year, a tech news site covering Google claimed that the site was releasing a new service called Google Writer that would essentially do all of the creative writing in a blog, essay or news article for a user.
The blog of Google engineer Matt Cutts appeared to be defaced on Sunday by a group claiming to be the Dark SEO Team, though another blog, Google Blogoscoped, claimed that could also be a prank.
The blog of Microsoft’s chief open-source evangelist Bill Hilf claimed that the software vendor was announcing its ‘Penguin Adoption 2007 programme’, by which it would support the Seattle Zoo’s penguin exhibit. Penguins, as most techies know, are the adopted mascot of the Linux movement. Microsoft, led by employees like Hilf, has started to forge alliances and with open-source vendors in recent years.
Dubious headlines at CNET’s News.com included ‘Vonage attempts to assuage dissatisfied customers with free tequila’ and ‘US government outlaws Windows Vista’.
The Register claimed that Apple was dumping its iPhone in favour of a spherical device built with Google.
The ‘ID’ is so minimalist in design it has no buttons. It can’t be used as a phone; rather, it beams (what else?) relevant, contextual ads to users based on their location. In practice, reported The Register, that means Viagra ads. Surprisingly, El Reg's close rival, The Inquirer, did not feature any gag stories.
Meanwhile, blogger Robert Scoble claimed that Apple was collaborating with Amazon.com, Google and Cingular Wireless LLC on a e-book reader type of device called the iReader.
Retailer ThinkGeek offered a bounty of gag products, including a helmet for playing the Nintendo Wii by making tiny movements of your neck. ThinkGeek also claimed to offer remote-controlled toy piranhas with frickin lasers attached to them (to satiate the Dr. Evil in all of us) as well as a digital photo frame for lonely guys with fake friends digitally inserted next to you "to ward away awkward explanations of your nonexistent weekend plans”.
This year’s overflowing bounty of pranks had some in a non-thankful mood. Silicon Valley gossip site ValleyWag harrumphed that the jokes were getting less clever each year.
"The problem with celebrating April Fools' Day online isn't just the three or so tired jokes. It's that on the internet, every day is April Fools' Day," grumbled the site, whose specialty is world-weary takes on tech happenings. "April Fools' Day does to the internet what Valentine's Day does to love: tarts it up, fakes it out and leaves us disappointed."