Monday, September 07, 2009

"All your O are belong to us"

Google it seems have baffled half the Internet's users, bloggers, Twitterers and others by their use of a UFO in their logo over the weekend. The Internet search giant often pay homage to artists, scientists and to specific anniversaries by designing special Google logos for it's search page. But on Saturday September 5th the incorporation of a UFO apparently pulling the second O of Google into its tractor beam created a flurry of Internet discussions, tweets and blogs. Even supposedly serious newspapers like the Daily Telegraph in the UK reported on the mystery. So, what was the anniversary to which the flying spaceship eluded?

There was no apparent clue by clicking the logo. Usually Google would take the user to a page connected with the date in question. For instance on Charles Darwin's Birthday on February 12, 2009, a click on the logo would send the user to a Google search for Charles Darwin. But last Saturday one merely arrived at a Google search for "unexplained phenomena".

Was this a practical joke by Google? Had they simply run out of ideas? The Internet was buzzing with various possible explanations. The Telegraph itself drew around 75 comments. Some suggested it was a hacking attempt by the aliens while others suggested Google was itself an alien organisation! Was the Internet search company suggesting it was to change its name to Gogle, given the UFO was apparently stealing one of its Os? That it seemed was a clue. A tweet issued by Google on its Twitter feed had every one a-twitter. At first sight the tweet appeared to be random string of numbers. But then someone, obviously someone with far too much time on their hands, noticed that there was a pattern. The number sequence, 1.12.12 15 1.18.5 20.15 21.19, was, if correlated to the letters of the alphabet, a sentence of sorts. "All your O are belong to us" the sentence read. But what of it? According to Internet geeks and experts in trivia and minutiae, it is a reference to Zero Wing, a Japanese computer game, supposedly released 20 years ago, though there's no substantive proof of that either.

In the game the cyborg villain CATS is heard to utter the phrase "All your base are belong to us" [sic]. The broken English phrase has, according to Wikipedia, become an Internet phenomenon or meme. The text taken from the opening scene of the European Sega Mega Drive game was poorly translated however and should read, "With the help of the Federation Government forces, CATS has taken all of your bases." But if indeed this is what Google were making a connection to, it still remains unclear what the inference is.

The weekend marked Google Chrome's first birthday, but there was no reference to this in the logo. It was also Blogger's tenth birthday, and despite a few snippets on tech pages and an entry on the official Google blog there was no nice graphic specially designed for the occasion. But there was another notable event which occurred Friday, which still remains unexplained, but was also widely reported. Google's head in China announced he was to quit the company to start up a new venture. Kai-Fu Lee did not mention the troubles Google has had with censorship in China, nor of the continued blocking of Google owned sites in China. Even in an interview with VentureBeat which was published today [Monday September 7], Lee would only say, "I don't want to say much about Google" and insisted the company remained successful.

So was the UFO logo a veiled comment on Google losing its China head and having its "bases" taken by "Federation Government Forces" or "CATS"; the Chinese word of which is Mao. Maybe that's pushing the conspiracy boat out two far. But the logo has certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons. Meanwhile Google have only confused matters further with an eroneous statement, "We consider the second 'o' critical to user recognition of our brand and pronunciation of our name. We are actively looking into the mysterious tweet that has appeared on the Google twitter stream and the disappearance of the 'o' on the Google home page. We hope to have an update in the coming weeks."

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