YouTube April Fool's Joke Is on Google

Last Updated Apr 1, 2010 12:46 PM EDT

Google (GOOG) has a reputation for playing April Fool's pranks. (This year's renaming the site Topeka as a twist on Topeka, Kansas calling itself Google is pretty amusing.) And it had an impressive retro one on YouTube, recasting some videos into a "text" mode, similar to how programmers once used ASCII text to simulate images in the days before laser and ink-jet printers. However, this cute twist backfired as users complained heavily about the new video page interface that YouTube had separately introduced.

Here's one example of the videos in normal video mode. Unfortunately, embedding a link to the text mode doesn't seem to work, so click here for that version:

All well and good. The blog post was largely a giveaway that someone was pulling a leg:
It's great news that there are 24 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, we support 1080p and HD uploads are rising quickly, but that's also meant increasing bandwidth costs cutting into our bottom line. And so, in our drive to keep expenses under control, we've decided that April 1 is the perfect day to take the important step of offering a new way to experience YouTube: text-only mode, or TEXTp.

TEXTp is the result of months of intense transcoding efforts by our engineers, who toiled for weeks to ensure that a large chunk of videos on the platform could be reduced to their most basic elements. By replacing the images in the video with a series of letters and numbers, the videos are far less taxing on our system -- and have the added benefit of promoting literacy!
The kickers were that the post was signed by CFO Patrick Pichette and that it noted:
For every person who selects TEXTp and keeps it on while you watch a video, you save YouTube $1 a second, resulting in potentially billions of dollars of savings for us. So if you care about YouTube, you'll use TEXTp today.
Humorous, and even more obviously a joke given how unlikely it is that Google would pay more for a given amount of bandwidth than a consumer, and no one is spending $1 a second to receive video. What, Google spend $120 to send a 2-minute video to someone for nothing? That's to say nothing of the note that you could get the text version of most videos by appending "&textp=fool" to a video's URL.

However, many users weren't laughing, and not because they didn't realize that the text was an April Fool's gag. Instead, they complained about the new YouTube video page layout. Here are some comments:
  • So this crappy video page layout isn't April Fools joke? Oh thanks Youtube. I'm considering leaving because it's so aggravating just to watch a video.
  • OK seriously. Does this mean that the new layout is also part of the April Fool's Joke? Because if not, it's not cool to change it then decide to keep it because it's a mess.
  • We'll be happy to save you guys money as soon as you revert to the old layout.
  • By the looks of things, they spent months preparing an April Fool's gag, but only a few hours of real work in designing the video page layouts.
That said, some posters liked the new page layout and, ironically, many wanted Google to keep the new ASCII option and get it extended to all videos. Quick, Eric Schmidt, take a letter.

  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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