High-Tech Hijinks: Top 7 Web and PC Pranks

IMAGE: Web-related April Fools Jokes

What would April be without its annual day of tomfoolery?

Even the stodgiest among us enjoy a chuckle, and tech geeks, especially, have a field day every April 1, using their skills to snare surfers online or throw friends and co-workers off-kilter at their computers.

"What a lot of people forget is engineering is technical and, in business is important, but a lot of us are doing this because it's pretty fun," said Dan Kaminsky, a computer security consultant for Seattle IOActive Inc. in Seattle, who is also credited with discovering a major Internet security flaw.

"The heart of humor is surprise," he continued. "And how often have you [said] 'you can do that with the Internet!?'"

Whoopee cushions and cans of snakes may still leave some of us in stitches. But in the Internet age, it's often easier for mischief-makers to use fake news and Facebook pranks to catch their victims off-guard.

"What is digital slapstick?" asked Nate Westheimer, the organizer of the entrepreneurial community New York Tech Meet-Up. "It's less about physical humor and more about informational humor. It's very situational."

From a proposal to run the Internet through pigeons to reports of a sophisticated Google dating service to a bizarre but popular YouTube phenomenon starring singer-songwriter Rick Astley, the Internet has played host to all kinds of high-tech hoaxes.

Here's a sampling of our favorites (including a few simple computer pranks you can pull, too).

Pigeon-Powered Internet?

To make sure that individuals and institutions all over the world can communicate over the Internet, lots of very smart computer engineers develop and promote Internet standards. But the fine people involved with the Internet Engineering Task Force are a puckish bunch. And, every April 1 since 1989, they've published at least one tongue-in-cheek document.

"There is a long and storied tradition of the people who put together Internet standards having a little bit of fun," Kaminsky said of the documents known as the April 1 RFCs (or Request for Comments).

One of their most notorious April Fool's publications, he said, was a proposal outlining how Internet data could be carried by well-trained pigeons.

The plan was so popular that, in 2001, a group of programmers in Bergen, Norway, actually put the pigeon-powered Internet to work. They sent carrier pigeons bearing packets of data across a roughly 3-mile region.

"It was a very, very slow Internet connection," Kaminksy deadpanned.

The World Wide Web leaves a lot of room for amusement, he said. And as the pigeon proposal shows, if you can do something ridiculous (as long as it doesn't hurt anyone), there's little reason not to.

The Google Soulmate Search

Google, too, has a long tradition of using April Fool's Day to launch faux products.

In 2006, the company announced a plan "to organize [the] world's courtship information with Google Romance."

The spoof offered a psychographic matching service (called Soulmate Search) and all-expense-paid dates for couples who agreed to experiencing "contextually relevant advertising" while on their outing.

Other Google pranks included Google Gulp, a link of "smart drinks" that promised to "maximize your surfing efficiency" and Google Australia's "gDay with MATE," that would search Internet content before it is created.

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