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How The Internet Is Ruining April Fools’ Day

Sure, the Guardian’s joke was clever. And a couple other pranks have been vaguely amusing today. But, increasingly, April 1 has become one of the most annoying days to be online.

Once upon a time the BBC pulled off one of the most successful and highly regarded April Fools’ jokes ever. The straight-laced British public broadcaster showed an episode of its very serious news program Panorama, narrated by one of its most respected newsreaders, that covered the annual spaghetti harvest in Switzerland. Millions of Brits watched with fascination as farmers plucked strands of spaghetti from trees. This was in 1957. Simpler times. Spaghetti wasn’t as universally eaten in the U.K. as it is now and many viewers believed what they saw.

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This was a masterful April Fools’ joke, remembered with joy every year as I grew up in the land of the BBC. Then came the Internet, and now I yearn for the grand tomfoolery of April Fools’ days past. That’s because practically every Tom, Dick, and Harriet on the web is trotting out their April Fool joke today, and many of them are terrible, unfunny attempts to leverage a bit of bran-buffing PR gloss. (There are exceptions, of course.)

The Guardian‘s stunt, a version of Google Glass (called, inevitably, Guardian Goggles) was actually funny: The “anti-bibigotry technology” built-in would automatically redact comments from some of the U.K.’s more trashy journalists, and overall the augmented reality tech would give users an “immersive liberal insight” into the world.

Funny, pithy, tapping the zeigeist… the joke stands apart from Google’s own lame effort.

For April Fools’ Google wanted us to believe, among many different stunts, that YouTube was nothing more than a competition. The site was shutting down and in 10 years Google would announce who’d “won” the game. Hmmm. That’s not fooling anyone, nor is it actually funny–probably only the newbiest of netizens would even begin to fall for that stunt.

More humorous was Sony’s new “Animalia” line of products, designed exclusively for pets. A thumbs-up is given for Sony‘s product labels like the “M3-OW KittyCans” headphones. Here Sony is gently poking fun at its real-life arcane product labels. But it’s still just a big ad for Sony.

Microsoft‘s Bing tried something geekily funny and posted a page about a new search engine optimization tag that the browser will now support, letting you choose where your links appear in search results. Every website in the world would set the tag to must_be_before=”*.mycompetitor.com/*”. For a tiny audience this is a good joke.

Perhaps it’s the ubiquity of data on the Net that’s making the whole April Fools’ thing tiresome. If everyone tries to pull a stunt, then surely there’s not going to be anyone really falling for them, particularly if it’s just a brand message. Twitterers agree: Richard Roeper tweeted yesterday that “Tomorrow the Internet will be overflowing with pranks, hoaxes and half-truths. Also, it will be April Fool’s Day. Connor Turner went one further and wrote“Thanks to the internet, April Fool’s officially peaked and died in 2010.”

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Should your brand keep away from terrible April Fools’ puns? Or is it merely a case of putting enough effort into the jokes–such as, for example, threading thousands of spaghetti strands into trees–so that they’re actually admirable?

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