The internet makes April Fool's Day shenanigans accessible to millions of people, many of them quite gullible, as any spammer can attest. Here are some of the biggest and best internet pranks from the past few years.
2004: the iShave
A German website launched a new product called the iShave, It was supposedly a gadget you plugged into your iPod that turned it into an electric razor. The idea resurfaced in June of 2007 as a long-handled razor for shaving one's back. It came with a press release and a product website (which is no longer maintained). Today, the idea exists only as a 99 cent app to make your iPhone look and sound like an electric shaver in order to prank your friends.
2005: Water on Mars
The Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA is always a treat, but on April first of 2005 it was a tasty treat -an announcement of the discovery of water on Mars! It was only three years later that the joke became a reality, although many folks were understandably skeptical at first. Image by Ellen Roper.
2006: The Cure for Information Overload
This was the year everyone wanted to get in on the act. It's impossible to know who first linked to the cure for information overload, but it became the big link of the day. I recall trying to count how many websites were involved and then finding that I was going in circles. Unfortunately, five years later some of the links are dead, so there are probably broken arcs of this prank existing in isolated pockets all over the internet.
2007: Gmail Paper
Wouldn't it be nice if you could have all your email printed and delivered to your home on paper, so you could read it anywhere? That was the idea behind Gmail Paper, launched by Google on April first, 2007, complete with testimonials. I don't think anyone signed up for the service, even though it is "free."
2008: Flying Penguins
Late on March 31st, 2008, the BBC uploaded a video to YouTube featuring a documentary clip about a very special colony of Adélie penguins found on King George Island. These penguins can fly! The footage was narrated by Terry Jones, who was billed as "Film maker and writer," and is actually best known as a member of Monty Python. He did his very best Sir David Attenborough impression in the video. The Telegraph and other newspapers posted a preview of the documentary to be aired on British TV on April 1st. On April second, the BBC uploaded a video that explained how the stunt was created. Jones was nowhere near the Antarctic, and the footage was remixed to make the penguins appear to fly. The prank was created to promote the BBC's iPlayer, which was just going live around April Fool's Day.
2009: Crashing a Funeral
Improv Everwhere has done some nice things, like throwing a surprise wedding reception for a couple who got married at city hall. On April first of 2009, they posted a mission called The Best Funeral Ever in which they crashed a graveside service. The stated goal was to make the funeral for someone with few relatives and fewer friends into a glorious sendoff. Many who first encountered this took it as a kind gesture. Then when we watched the video, it became clear that the mourners did not appreciate the interference of strangers. Many readers cried foul and said that Improv had finally crossed the line. It was easy to believe because it was along the lines of things they would do. However, as scorn was heaped upon the group, they had to point out the date and explain that even the mourners in this video were actors. The real target of the prank was the entire internet audience.
2010: Canned Unicorn Meat
Think Geek has a history of great prank products they post every April Fool's Day. Some proved to be so popular that the site had to shift gears and find a way to turn the joke into a real product, like the Personal Soundtrack Shirt and the Tauntaun Sleeping Bag. Then in 2010, everyone was talking about one they couldn't produce for real: Canned Unicorn Meat, touted as "the new white meat." The product, or at least the picture, was reposted everywhere, but the real joke emerged in June. That's when Think Geek received a cease and desist letter from the National Pork Board, which considered the tagline to be an infringement of their slogan "the other white meat". That reaction turned into a bigger story than the original joke.
What will April Fool's Day 2011 bring? It will have to be big if it's going to top all these! For more great April Fool's Day pranks from history, check out the big list from The Museum of Hoaxes.