When I found myself calling Google corporate PR department at midnight on April Fools, it was pretty clear our little stunt had worked. They just wanted to make sure that we had not, in fact, been leaked fake screen shots by some nutball and that we didn't believe that Google Jail was real.
No. Google Jail was entirely our doing. It was an April Fools prank about an April Fools prank. We made up the concept then made up the fact that Google had planned to use it for its own April Fools joke and that we had been leaked screen shots and a promo video (a video of a video, in fact). "Project Manager" Jack Russ? That's Austin Carr, our star intern who became aware of his starring role in this prank about an hour before filming—his endearing awkwardness perfectly fit the the Google video mold.
April Fools Day pranks have grown into a ridiculous enterprise. They involve multimedia. They're ubiquitous. And everyone blows the embargo, launching fake stories a day or more in advance. As an editor in charge of assigning and editing a couple of dozen posts a day, it's a maddening, treacherous environment to navigate.
So we figured we'd add a twist to the chaos.
We never expected anyone to believe that Google was getting into the jails business. But lots of people fell for the idea that Google had planned this as a prank. (One or two unraveled the ruse.) Techcrunch took particularly huffy umbrage with the whole thing:
And what happened to Google Jail? As far as I can tell it remains unannounced. Maybe they got mad that Fast Company scooped them on their own joke. Or maybe someone at Google decided it was a bad idea to mock the horrific prison situation here in the U.S.
The folks at Google, a company that launched Gmail on April 1, 2004, were much better sports. A company rep did, however, end our brief midnight conversation by casually saying, "Okay, well, keep your eyes peeled!"
Was that a threat?! I use Gmail for everything. Gchat, too. Google Calendar, Chrome, even Buzz. What did "keep your eyes peeled" mean?! Turns out he was probably giving me blind heads up to watch for Google's own actual prank, Topeka.
Ours was better.
Kudos to FC intern Austin Carr, and filmmakers Adam Barenblat and Amanda Ligman for the great animations and editing.