April Fools 2009: Flying hotels, 3D browsing, fake mergers, and more

A roundup of the pranks, fake news stories, and other goofy gags found across the Web.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
4 min read

April Fools' Day has hit the Internet and, as usual, there's no shortage of fake news stories, gag product announcements, and corny jokes. Some are funny. Some are sort of lame attempts at being funny. Here are some of the ones we think are worth highlighting, and we'll be updating this throughout the day as we catch wind of more.

None of these links are Rickrolls. I promise. That is so 2008.

  • A couple of blogs (including reputable tech stalwart Engadget) were legitimately punked by an early hoax: the "Hotelicopter," which claimed to be the world's first flying hotel--converted from an old Soviet military helicopter.
  • Security blog TechJaws announced that Microsoft had finally acquired Yahoo. Um--yawn.
  • One of the best April Fools' jokes this year comes from The Washington Post, with fake exploits of the much-hyped Conficker worm rolled up into what appeared at first to be a straight news story.
  • Gmail's "autopilot" filters Google
  • Google, known for its April Fools pranks, pulled an odd one this year with the introduction of a fake artificial intelligence research project called CADIE. Naturally, CADIE is a disaster: the project determines that the best Web design resembles something out of 1997's backwaters. (There's also a mobile "Google Brain Search," a Gmail "autopilot," and a 3D version of its Chrome browser.)
  • The Google-owned YouTube played its videos upside down.
  • Broadband media blog VideoNuze announced that YouTube and Hulu had merged but were still searching for a new name.
  • Amazon Web Services unveiled a new plan for cloud-computing systems hosted on blimps.
  • Ice cream company Ben & Jerry's created a fake Web site, Cyclone Dairy, which claims to only sell milk coming from cloned cows. But in a press release, Ben & Jerry's explained that it does hope the prank will raise awareness of the ethical and health issues surrounding cloned livestock.
  • Social news site Reddit rebranded itself as "Reddigg," aping the color scheme and layout of its rival Digg.
  • The U.K. newspaper The Guardian announced that it was shutting down both its print edition and Web site, turning instead to a Twitter-only format. "Experts say any story can be told in 140 characters," the announcement read.
  • Box.net's faux Twitter-stye service randomly cuts out parts of your words. CNET Networks
  • Box.net, meanwhile, argued that 140 characters is too long and launched a gag product called Chirper, which promised to shorten tweets to 50 characters for easier consumption. It actually works, but, um, we doubt you want to use it.
  • Image-editing company Aviary announced "Crane," the world's first "paper based image editor," which uses a physical "Pencil Tool."
  • Opera's "facial gestures" Opera
  • The makers of the Opera browser announced that they were introducing face-gesture browsing.
  • Social-network app company SGN, which owns the cutesy virtual pet app FluffFriends, dressed up its cartoon animals to look like killer mobsters. They still don't look very scary.
  • College search site Unigo added a fake college, Cornmouth University, to its directory. Company employees have been Twittering that they spent spring break there.
  • An e-book company called Smashwords put out a fake press release announcing that the entire "Harry Potter" series had been self-published on its service by author J.K. Rowling. Self-aggrandizement, anyone?
  • Ladies! TechCrunch's Michael Arrington is hunting for a wife and has enlisted a matchmaker! "I understand I don't have much to work with here," she wrote on TechCrunch. "A sedentary 39 year old single man who made questionable career choices and now blogs for a living just doesn't look good on paper...As far as I can tell his diet consists almost entirely of burritos from Chipotle."
  • Wikipedia's annual homepage makeover again tweaked its "In the News" and "Did you know..." section to put a fake spin on otherwise real stories. "HBO television network broadcast midgets racing for prizes in a chili bowl" is technically true, but it was actually midget-class race cars in an event known as the Chili Bowl.
  • Microsoft created a fake trailer for a Guitar Hero-like Xbox 360 game called "Alpine Legend."
  • A Digg employee created a fake Web development framework called "PHP on Rails" or "Phails," a pun on Ruby on Rails and PHP. In fact, it's a jab at the terrible marketing banter that's so prevalent in the developer world.
  • The people behind the "Shorty Awards" ceremony earlier this year created a spoof page for "Twitter Pro" accounts and enlisted some friends to add "Pro" watermarks on their user pictures.
  • Some guy created FreakingHugeURL.com for people who consider themselves too cool for URL shortening services like TinyURL and Bit.ly.
  • And in what could turn out to be the biggest joke of all, that Conficker worm has turned out to have more bark than bite so far.