Google has a long history of April Fools' Day pranks. From upside-down YouTube clips and replacing videos with text to partnering with Virgin to create the Mars expedition team Virgle, Google has pulled more gags than the MIT frats to which many of its employees once belonged.
However today's spoof has a touch of real-world consequence. Last month, Topeka jokingly changed its name to Google, Kansas. This earlier renaming stunt, pulled well before April 1, tried to grab Google's attention. The company has offered to test a super-high-speed broadband network – 20 times faster than current commercial options – in one US city. This promise, which comes with plenty of publicity and probably new jobs, sent cities across the country into a lighthearted bidding war.
Topeka renamed itself. Duluth, Minn., mayor Don Ness jumped into frigid Lake Superior in just a T-shirt and shorts – then uploaded the video to YouTube, of course. "I've laid down the gauntlet," Mr. Ness says in the video. "All right, you other mayors, you want Google fiber? You jump in Lake Superior!"
In an April Fools' press release today, Google CEO Eric Schmidt explained the company's new name.
"We didn’t reach this decision lightly; after all, we had a fair amount of brand equity tied up in our old name," he writes. "But the more we surfed around (the former) Topeka’s municipal website, the more kinship we felt with this fine city at the edge of the Great Plains. In fact, Topeka Google Mayor Bill Bunten expressed it best: 'Don’t be fooled. Even Google recognizes that all roads lead to Kansas, not just yellow brick ones.' "
Acknowledging the broadband deal, Mr. Schmidt closed the letter with: "Finally, we want to be clear that this initiative is a one-shot deal that will have no bearing on which municipalities are chosen to participate in our experimental ultra-high-speed broadband project, to which Google, Kansas has been just one of many communities to apply."
As with most of Google's banner changes, everything will likely return to normal tomorrow. But for the chosen city, which Google will announce soon, April Fools' Day just caps a month full of stunts that could change a community's future for years to come.
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Topeka: Google pulls April Fools' prank after Kansas's renaming stunt