Six April Fools' Day launches that were real

April Fools' Day tends to bring out the shenanigans in companies big and small. But every once in a while there are some real product launches amid the jokes.

Every year the tech world trips over itself to create a myriad fake products for user chuckles and some easy press. There's also a very small percentage of companies that decide to launch real products. We've rounded up six of those sites and services below, as well as some honorable April Fools' Day-related news events.

1. Google Gmail

One of the most notable April Fools' Day launches was Google's Gmail in 2004. Back then, a gigabyte of storage for a Web e-mail service was a big deal. This was especially true given that competitors like Microsoft and Yahoo were charging for extra in-box space.

Gmail wasn't open to everyone though. Its small, 1,000-user private beta test, which expanded through the company doling out user invites from time to time, became a hot tech ticket, and one that spawned an entire ecosystem of invite-trading economies.

Gmail has since continued to expand how much service it gives users, which is now up to 7.4GB.

2. Yahoo Sideline

Yahoo's Sideline is no joke. It lets you monitor Twitter keywords and searches across multiple tabs using Adobe AIR. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Yahoo launched its Twitter tracking tool Sideline exactly one year ago, and it's still up and running. The Adobe Air-based app lets users keep an eye on Twitter in real time. Users can enter in search queries, and see them stream in across multiple tabs. The software is meant to be running all the time, though it cannot do some basic things like allow you to post to Twitter, or quickly follow a user that shows up in the results.

See our hands-on with it from last year.

3. Scribd's "Paper to iPaper"

A scanning-by-mail service from a digital documents service? It seemed too outlandish that a company would eat the cost of scanning a giant stack of your documents in order to get them in its database. But that's just what Web document-sharing tool Scribd launched on April Fools' Day in 2008 . We thought it was a joke and so did our readers.

The service, which was quietly killed off last year, worked pretty well in our testing (see the result). The only big downsides were that you never got your physical documents back, and you had to pay for it to be shipped to Scribd's scanning headquarters.

4. Blinkx's BBTV

Blinkx's BBTV put up contextually-relevant Web content alongside content you were watching. Blinkx

Blinx's broadband TV (BBTV) service was launched on April Fools' Day back in 2008 and is still kicking. Its official release date was April 2, but news about the product, as well as the download to it was made available a day before. The software lets users watch Web video programming with a live updating transcript next to the video player. It also added things like actor bios, factoids, and maps of where the TV show or movie you were watching had been filmed.

Keeping the tradition alive, Blinx on Thursday also announced a partnership with Mobica to create a set of new mobile apps for watching videos on the go.

5. Freaking Huge URL

Last year, amidst the massive influx of URL shorteners, Freaking Huge URL launched on April Fools' Day. Unlike Bit.ly, TinyURL, and all the rest, it took small URLs and made them larger. Useless? Certainly, but it also continues to be a real and working product with three different settings on how big you want the enlarged URL to be, ranging from 95 characters (almost an entire Twitter message) to well over 1,000 characters on the "holy crap!" setting.

6. Namechk

Namechk scans more than 140 sites to find people open usernames. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn / CNET

Namechk launched this time last year and lets you scout out open usernames across a handful of sites. This is useful for companies that want to establish a new brand on places like Facebook and Twitter without having to do all the legwork. For basic users it can also be a simple way to discover new sites where you might be able to get away with using the same log-in.

When we first covered it, it handled 84 different sites. It's since gone on to support 145.

Honorable mentions

Besides some real services that launched on April Fools' Day, there were a handful of news events or April Fools spoofs that ended up being real. Here are a few from the last two years:

Hotelicopter

Remember Hotelicopter? The decommissioned, Soviet-era helicopter that had been turned into a flying hotel? It turned out to be a fake, but became a very clever marketing stunt for the real Hotelicopter Web site, which launched a week later . It, unfortunately, does not offer a four-poster in the sky but a search engine to find deals on hotels around the world.

This was unfortunately not a reality. The travel Web site that came a week later though, was. Hotelicopter

Google's server press conference

Despite launching Gmail five years prior, and also on April Fools' Day, a press conference to show off the company's then-secret server technology left many of our readers thinking we were pulling one over on them. Part of the problem was Google's method of operating, which is (and has been for some time) to launch a handful of over-the-top April Fools' products.

Our April Fools' jokes turn into real products

In 2007, my CNET colleague Caroline McCarthy and I put out two April Fools' Day posts about a Google Maps mashup for rodent sightings in New York restaurants and a prenatal version of Twitter , where unborn children could post status updates. A year and a half later, both ideas became real services .

A Google Maps for rat infestations? Our April Fools' joke turned into a real tool. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn/CNET

For a list of this year's April Fools' Day Web pranks, check out Caroline's roundup . You can also go back in time with 2009's list.

 

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