The Origins of the 'Anonymous Animals' in Your Google Docs

Justin Sullivan/Getty Image
Justin Sullivan/Getty Image

Every time you open up a Google Doc with the setting “anyone with a link can view,” the contents of that document probably aren't the only thing you scan. Your eyes likely also check for the icon on the right hand corner to see whether you’re a wombat, an aurochs, a chupacabra, or any of the other 70 animal icons that are currently available to be assigned to each anonymous user.

All shared Google Docs feature a row of these animal icons. The images are assigned to every user currently viewing the file who wasn't directly invited to view it. That means if you share a document via a "sharable link" rather than specifically typing in someone's email address to invite them, the viewer will show up as an anonymous animal—even if you have their contact information.

Those animals go back further than you think, according to Google spokeswoman Kyree Harmon. In 2012, Google employees simply wanted to make the company's straightforward Docs feature—which was rebranded from "Google Documents" and included as part of the new Google Drive suite—more fun. “At the time, the proposal for anonymous viewers was to show them as a unique but lengthy number sequence, e.g. Anonymous35123512425,” Harmon tells Mental Floss. “[Then] the team wanted to see if they could come up with something more friendly and more human—and during a brainstorm, the alliteration Anonymous Animals came up. From there, the visual design team got involved to build out icons.”

According to Harmon, nobody remembers which creatures started it all, but “they were all fairly typical animals.” Eventually, the list expanded to critters that were a little more playful—not to mention mythical and even non-animal. (And in case you were wondering, no, you can’t choose your animal or check which icon you've been given without having another user in the Doc tell you. That’s part of the fun!) That explains why the capybara, the world’s largest rodent, is on the list, along with the axolotl, a “smiling” baby-faced salamander; Nyan Cat, a viral meme from 2011 featuring a pixelated flying feline with a Pop-Tart for a body; and the kraken, a giant, squid-like sea monster from Scandinavian legends.

Gradually, Harmon says, the engineers got even more creative and began to include those on the endangered and extinct list, like the quagga, an animal related to the modern zebra that went extinct in 1883. (Since then, there have been attempts to “revive” the species by breeding zebras that shared the quagga’s distinctive pattern, in order to create herds that resembled the original quaggas.)

The list grew quickly, and by 2016, it had reportedly expanded to include 68 animals. Moose, tiger, and llama had yet to show up at that point, and neither had the jackalope, a half-rabbit half-deer creature whose taxidermied remains appear mounted on walls throughout the American west. Those animals were added later, and according to Harmon, there are no plans to expand the current catalog of 73 creatures.

So what happens if there are more anonymous users actively using a Google doc than available animals? It doesn't happen often enough to be a concern. "If Docs were consistently receiving more than 73 simultaneous anonymous viewers," she says, "we certainly wouldn’t want to double up on any animal and cause confusion.”

For now, here's the complete roll call:

Chart of all the animals available in Google Docs
iStock, except for Nyan Cat, which is courtesy of http://www.nyan.cat/, prguitarman (LOL-Comics by Christopher Torres)

10 Simple Tricks for Charging Your Smartphone Faster

Makidotvn, iStock via Getty Images
Makidotvn, iStock via Getty Images

Smartphones always seem to reach low power at the least convenient moments possible. If you've ever urged your device to charge faster in the minutes before a phone interview or when you're about to board a plane, you can relate. While the easiest way to avoid this scenario is to plug in your device before the battery dips into the danger zone, if you've already reached this point, there are simple ways to speed up the charging process.

Some hacks for charging a phone faster involve steps you can take in anticipation of the next time you're surviving on minimum energy. Certain gadgets, like special chargers and battery packs, will power-up your device more efficiently than others. For moments when your phone is dying and all you have is your regular charging cable, adjusting your phone's settings to minimize the power it consumes also works in a pinch.

You can find some specific ways to charge your phone quickly below: 

  1. Plug it into a wall outlet instead of a USB port.
  1. Use a portable battery pack.
  1. Buy a special "fast" phone charger.
  1. Switch to low power mode.
  1. Switch to airplane mode.
  1. Let your phone drain completely on its own once a month to the extend the battery life.
  1. Close any background apps.
  1. Stop automatic app updates.
  1. Don't check your phone while it's charging
  1. Keep your phone out of the heat.

For more tricks for making your phone usage more efficient, check out these tips for typing faster.

Does Pushing the Button at a Crosswalk Actually Do Anything?

Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
David Tran/iStock via Getty Images

Since crosswalk signals rarely seem to give you the green light (or more accurately, the white, human-shaped light) right after you press the button, you may find yourself wondering if those buttons actually work. The potentially exasperating answer is this: It depends.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that crosswalk buttons aren’t designed to have an immediate effect; they’re just supposed to tell the system that a person is waiting to cross. As CityLab explained, some systems won’t ever give pedestrians the crossing signal unless someone has pressed the button, while others are programmed to shorten the wait time for walkers when the button has been pressed. No matter what, the system still has to cycle through its other phases to give cars enough time to pass through the intersection, so you’ll probably still have to stand there for a moment.

During busy traffic times or under other extenuating circumstances, however, cities can switch the system to what’s known as “recall mode,” when pedestrian crossings are part of the cycle already and pressing the button quite literally changes nothing. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a particular button is in recall mode, short of calling your city officials and asking an expert to come inspect it.

But if you feel like a button isn’t doing anything, there’s a pretty good chance it’s been permanently deactivated. As congestion has increased and the systems to manage it have become more advanced over the years, cities have moved away from using crosswalk buttons at all. In 2018, for example, CNN reported that only around 100 of New York City’s 1000 buttons were still functioning. Since actually removing the buttons from crosswalks would be a costly endeavor, cities have opted to leave them intact, just waiting to be pummeled by impatient pedestrians who don’t know any better.

What about 'close door' buttons on elevators, you ask? That depends, too.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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