Technologizer

Google’s Greatest April Fools’ Hoax Ever (Hint: It Wasn’t a Hoax)

Back in 2004, Google announced a new service that sounded like heavy-handed whimsy. It wasn't

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[image] Google cofounder Sergey Brin in July 2004, a few months after Gmail's debut, with 2004 phone and 2004 news source
Bloomberg / Getty Images

Google co-founder Sergey Brin in July 2004, a few months after Gmail's debut

Would you think me a hopelessly humorless curmudgeon if I confessed that the Internet’s aggressive celebration of April Fools’ Day — which gets a little more aggressive each year — hasn’t improved April Fools’ Day for me?

For one thing, you know in advance that the day is going to involve one damn prank after another, eliminating the surprise element that makes good April Fools’ Day pranks entertaining. (You’re only going to be fooled by these hoaxes if you’re … well, a fool.) For another, no other day of the year features so many painfully mirthless attempts at humor by folks who shouldn’t be attempting to be funny in public.

It was Google that kicked off the age of Internet April foolery back in 2000, and the company continues to ratchet up the quantity and ambition of its hoaxes each year. I cheerfully concede that it does a much better job than most of the others that have followed its lead.

Still, Google has never topped a prank it played in 2004 — one that was so effective that most people, to this day, don’t think of it as a prank. I speak of the launch of Gmail on April 1, 2004.

The product — webmail with a gigabyte of free storage, at a time when Hotmail offered 1/500th as much and Yahoo Mail offered 1/250th as much — did not sound plausible. That led many reasonably savvy folks (myself included) to assume it was a hoax, especially since the announcement had an odd, jokey feel to it, and the service was allegedly rolling out to a “a handful” of people. There was simply no prior evidence that a Web service involving online storage could be astonishingly roomy rather than stingy and insufficient. Even the notion of Google rolling out something that wasn’t a search engine sounded suspect at the time.

But improbable though Gmail seemed — and despite the April 1 time stamp on the news — it was real. The hoax was that it wasn’t a hoax. Instead, it was one of the most important Web services that anybody ever unveiled. Genius.

Back in 2004, a gigabyte of online storage was such an impossibly copious amount that Google said it would eliminate the need to delete messages, period. Wrong! Now Gmail offers 10 GB of space, and while that amount is generous, it’s far from being all the space anyone could conceivably need: I pay for 25 GB of space and expect to fill it all up within the next few years. (At the moment, I have 13.5 GB of stuff.) What seemed unimaginable in 2004 — enormous amounts of cloud storage, for free — is now utterly mundane, thanks in part to Gmail’s pioneering largesse.

So it’s tempting to wonder: Is there any real news Google or anyone else could announce today that would sound as much like a hoax as Gmail did in 2004? I’d love to think that the day will come again when something I assume is hyperbolic fakery turns out to be wonderful, world-changing reality. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the reverse prank that Google pulled off so effectively in 2004 turns out to be a one-time feat.

For the record, here’s the Gmail news Google announced today — which, while neither incredible nor real, is not bad for an Internet April Fools’ Day stunt:

23 comments
EllieK
EllieK

I just noticed your post now. Thanks for the URL to that April 2004 Google press release. I liked the old photo of Sergey Brin too. He looked so normal, not all Google Glass-ed. It is sweet, endearing. 

BrandonSwenson
BrandonSwenson

My favorite April Fools Joke from Google was their Click-To-Teleport (CTT) video. I absolutely loved that one and sent that to many people I knew it was trip out lol. Google blue was pretty good as well :)

chadf
chadf

25GB in a few years? After about a year and a half of using gmail, I'm still at 0.1G of my 10.1G limit.

luscusrex
luscusrex

I'm sorry did you all miss Google nose??????

rcroeder
rcroeder

Also of you go to BING search and type google you get an interesting surprize.

Shlomo'Shon'Dalezman
Shlomo'Shon'Dalezman

Gmail thought it was just an April's fools joke, but here is the extension to make it a reality: https://bitly.com/

Unveiling the new and improved Gmail Blue, download and check it out for yourself!

GlennPaul
GlennPaul

In 2004, when it was fashionable for dot-com companies to put their names on arenas, my company announced that we had purchased the naming rights for the Roman Coliseum.  We recognized that people might not call it the "dotPhoto Coliseum," but we were happy to provide funds for renovation and improved cellular service.  Commentator Charles Osgood picked up on the story as an example of Internet companies run amok.  We had fun with it.  "dotPhoto plans to upgrade the facility, which has not had a major improvement since the early nineteenth century."

jack_k1
jack_k1

Ha! The joke's on you. None of you "got" it. This is one big dig on Microsoft. Microsoft just recently came out with "Outlook" to replace "Hotmail" - the main difference  it's bluer. That's right. Outlook has no (noticeable) new functionality. The layout is a tiny bit different, and the color has changed. So yes, this is Google's parody on Microsoft's new web-based Outlook program. 

Very funny. 

jhelfer67
jhelfer67

Best prank of all. A self important blogger getting all butt hurt over some jokes. Wait... he was serious? Stop crying. Don't look.

fletc3her
fletc3her

What Google knew then was that even if the technical limit was astronomical almost nobody would come close to reaching it.  99% of Gmail accounts could probably fit in the old Hotmail limits.  Supporting higher storage for the few that don't isn't a great expense.

0to60InOMG
0to60InOMG

Microsoft Windows next codename is Blue.  This seems like it could be an awesome dig...

BobbieStump
BobbieStump

The Roku Glasses hoax. It's a hoax because Roku doesn't have to product, but it's not a hoax because Google Glass is a real product that could do this.

nikitas84
nikitas84

TISP, TEXTp, and 8-bit Maps are my favorite so far

KabsKubs
KabsKubs

A very delightful piece indeed.

MrMister
MrMister

Is anyone else having problems getting Google Nose to work..................................

KinglyCitrus
KinglyCitrus

@jack_k1 That's true, but it's not why Google did this. This is a joke about "Windows Blue", which has been in the rumor mill for months and was just recently mostly-confirmed by a Microsoft blog post. It's more of a strategy than a product- essentially, releasing a new version of Windows every year (and probably doing away with the numbered naming conventions). They want to speed up the release process on all of their products, in fact, changing to a "rolling release" model like Google Chrome (or, to a lesser extent, Mac OS X or Windows Phone). So, "frequent and cheap" instead of "infrequent and expensive" upgrades. This strategy, and the new versions of Windows, probably won't be called "Blue". It's just an internal codename, but it's been leaked enough to the press that they were forced to acknowledge the coming change in that blog post. It's also been touted by many as something that will really shake up the industry, which is what Google is poking fun at.

MarkSiltala
MarkSiltala

I have a bit of cold right now, so I figure that may be a problem...