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Something smells with Google Nose

Search engine joins April Fools' Day shenanigans

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April Fools' Day has come a long way since toilet-papering and shave-creaming your buddy's car was the height of comedy.

Thanks in large part to the Internet, and social media in particular, pranks on April 1 are no longer intimate affairs between a small number of people. If all goes well, the rollout of mock innovations and parody makeovers go viral.

That's easy to do if you're Google. The search engine announced early Monday it was promoting a new service called Google Nose that would enable users to scan its 15 million "scenta-byte" database of smells around the world.

It also unveiled a Google Maps feature that allows people to search for pirate treasures.

Both, of course, were jokes.

Not to be outdone, Twitter announced a new plan that would enable its users to be even more efficient with the 140 characters they're allotted -- no vowels. Its consonant-only plan, called "Twttr" would be free while tweet plans with vowels would cost $5 per month.

The company tweeted, "Trd th nw Twttr yt? Mr tm fr mr twts!" (That translates to "Tried the new Twitter yet? More time for more tweets!")

On its blog, Twitter said it was offering the vowel-less plan to encourage a more efficient and "dense" form of communication.

It also addressed the ambiguity of the letter "y," saying the sometimes vowel, sometimes consonant would remain free.

Across Canada, WestJet, the Toronto Transit Commission, Lululemon, Boston Pizza and Rogers all seemingly introduced new products.

Yoga company Lululemon, for example, said it was partnering with local cow farmers who feed their animals organic grass and chia seeds to introduce "lululeather." The first product? Cowabunga yoga pants, of course.

WestJet was touting its kid-free flights, the TTC its "personal" subway car and Boston Pizza said it was banning all buns and replacing them with new uses for pizza dough, including pizzaburgers (No joke). Rogers introduced a toque that connects to smartphones and displays what wearers would see if their faces weren't covered.

York University professor Russell Belk said the comedic companies are all seeking buzz rather than a spike in sales.

Well-executed humour can go viral and attract lots of mainstream media attention, but those that miss the mark may also risk turning off their customers, he said.

Sometimes all you need is a communications department to get in on the game. The University of Winnipeg, for example, put out a press release early Monday morning touting its acquisition of the Arlington CP Rail yards and its plans to spearhead design and redevelopment of two square kilometres of land for mixed-use residential, office and recreational space.

The release said the agreement to purchase was made possible after a generous member of its alumni -- who wished to remain anonymous -- made a "historic" donation to cover the full purchase price.

The plans included dismantling the Arlington Street Bridge, which is approaching the end of its useful life anyway, and replacing it with an active transportation corridor with dedicated bus lanes, cycling paths and walkways.

Even better, the bridge's steel will be recycled to build the world's longest toboggan run on-site. The release even came with a boilerplate quote from the university's president, Llyod Axworthy, a man not known for tomfoolery.

"As a boy who grew up in the North End, I understand that the rail yards are not only a physical barrier, but represent a socio-economic divide that cannot continue if this city is to reach its full potential," he said.

Before any news organizations completely embarrassed themselves, the release ended in bold print with "April Fools' Day! (Gotcha).

-- With files from CP

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 2, 2013 B4

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