On the web, don’t be taken for a fool — any day of year

June 26th, 2015 11:29 pm

First Posted: 4/3/2013

April Fools’ Day on the Internet is always interesting.

Hundreds of well-known websites pull out all the stops, plying visitors with rich media presentations on imaginary products and ridiculous features or services. In many cases, these were pretty funny or downright neat.

I thought “Google Nose,” a search engine for smells, was pretty clever.

I guarantee that somewhere, someone (no doubt after a surreptitious glance to see if anyone was around) bought it just enough that they actually leaned forward and smelled their computer screen.

Then, of course, there was Netflix, which added categories such as “Reality TV about People with No Concept of Reality,” “Surreal Ballets Based on a William Shatner Album” and “TV Shows Where Defiantly Crossed Arms Mean Business.”

YouTube got in on the act, posting an announcement that the whole website was actually a giant contest and that it was going to go through every video ever uploaded to YouTube (probably a mathematical impossibility at this point) to select a winner.

Twitter also joined in by revealing Twttr — tweets without vowels — would be free, and if you wanted to be ostentatious and use an “a” or an “i,” you’d have to buy a vowel.

And who could forget Google Maps, and its supposed discovery of Captain Kidd’s pirate maps, which enabled a Treasure Map mode in addition to the usual terrain and satellite views?

In some cases, particularly those of Google and YouTube, you could tell that a lot of effort (and money, most likely) went into producing these April Fools’ jokes, which in their cases probably served a valid marketing purpose.

On one hand, it’s good to know that even massive corporations can afford to cut loose and have a little fun every once in a while.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people out there who will believe just about anything they read on the Internet, just because it happens to be on a computer; for every five or 10 people who chuckled at the video proclaiming YouTube was going to shut down, there are at least one or two telling all their friends that YouTube really is closing, or that Twitter is going to start charging for vowels.

There are also people out there that just don’t have a sense of humor. They might find the levity annoying, or perhaps it doesn’t occur to them that it’s possible to bypass or ignore the joke. Some of these people might fall into the category of “overly credulous” as well.

And therein lies the lesson: You’re using the Internet at your own risk. You have little to no control over most of the sites you visit, and if their owners decide to have a little fun with you — even if they’re industry giants such as Apple and Google — that’s their prerogative.

More to the point: Even at the best of times, you should take everything you see online with a grain of salt — both on and after April Fools’ Day.