Google Schools Prank
April 1 has long been a day of practical jokes and hoaxes. The scale does not matter for the most part, but the more people fooled, the better. There are the large-scale classics, such as Copenhagen's new metro and the BBC's various jokes. Then there's the smaller local jokes that can still get a good laugh, from both those being tricked and those performing the trickery. I (bvargo) tend to enjoy most of the jokes; if the joke doesn't make me freak out (e.g. there's a big unannounced test today in a class), then I'll typically enjoy the trick.
Naturally, I needed to have a joke of my own, something technically clever, yet still fun. The syslab has its annual changing of the login screen, which gets really old really fast. No, I needed something a bit bigger that more people could appreciate, yet something that would not get me into trouble. Lucky for me, April 1 was a Wednesday, which meant that most of the school would be using the Intranet. I knew that it'd definitely be possible to do something clever.
So now I had something to target, but I still needed to make Intranet something people would look at and have to do a double take. After pondering about this for about a week, the plan germinated in the early morning hours of March 23 on TJ's IRC channel.
We were discussing the Tale of Intranet that was being written for book of lore, when I brought up the topic of April fools jokes and Intranet. In 2008, we flipped the text upside down -- a joke repeated by Google in 2009 year on youtube. Most people did not find it too funny, because Intranet still had to be useful, so we could not turn everything upside down. This year's trick had to be something better, but something that did not remove the functionality of Intranet. Being obsessed with Google, I decided that Intranet needed to look like Google. The following conversation ensued:
( bvargo ) I need to work on something good for April 1 for that... ( bvargo ) maybe after all this math is done ( bvargo ) (e.g. tomorrow or later) ( bvargo ) I was thinking make Intranet look like gmail ( bvargo ) but now gmail has skins ( eharmon ) that would be efforty ( bvargo ) but cool ( eharmon ) indeed ( eharmon ) just pretend it got bought by google ( bvargo ) oh yes! ( eharmon ) slap the beta tag back on, put a google logo all over it ( eharmon ) change things to the google logo ( bvargo ) intranet is now google schools ( eharmon ) ahaha yes yes ( eharmon ) that is a good one ( eharmon ) they bought the intranet and now its google schools
Google Schools had been born. It would be immediately recognizable -- what student has not heard of Gmail -- and it would be functional. It would be a lot of work, but I knew I could have fun with it, and I was fairly certain the rest of the school would too.
schools.tjhsst.edu was setup, everything prepared, and then it finally went live four seconds after midnight on April 1 for most computers. The result was nothing short of amazing, if I do say so myself, especially considering that the main interface included no copying and pasting of gmail's website.
What was more amazing, however, was the response. Within minutes, I had IM windows flashing all over my screen asking about the Google Schools. Do TJ students really not sleep, spending all their time on the Intranet? Apparently. I had two IM windows open within thirty seconds of me flipping the final switch. Most comments were supportive, a laugh and a well done. Others were suggestions for improvement, some of which I implemented. Still others questioned whether Google had really partnered with TJ. The suggestion box was flooded with comments throughout the day, by both students and teachers. I was surprised at the number of teachers who believed that Google Schools was actually legitimate.
The idea was to make Intranet look as Googly as possible, in order to fool as many people as possible. At the same time, the scope of Google Schools was larger than that of just the Intranet. Google Schools would be more than just eighth period signup, but would bring social networking to the school environment.
The Login Page
The hallmarks of the Google login page are the login box on the right, the product logo in the top left, and features touting the wonderful capabilities of the product front and center, all while maintaining a fast-loading page that is easy on the eye. The wonderful features of Gmail as listed on the homepage are "less spam", "mobile access", and "lots of space." Obviously such slogans do not work for Google Schools; we needed our own. eharmon designed a Google Schools logo similar to that of Gmail. Where Gmail has a red envelope for the m, Google Schools has a red schoolhouse for the h. The three wonderful features were "activity signup," "social networking," and "the latest news." Of course the number of school activities changed, just like the gigabyte listing on the real Gmail login page.
The tin can walkie-talkie for social networking is actually from Google: it came from the Google Voice site. The news icon came from Google News. The activity signup calendar came from the gaunt icon set. At the last minute, the notice telling TJHSST students to use their intranet passwords to login was added. Google passwords did not actually work, though that did not keep people from trying. Most of the remaining HTML and CSS came straight from the Gmail login page.,
As a result, Gmail HTML/CSS was not used for the inside. Instead, a Gmail knockoff skin for Zimbra, Zmail, was employed. Almost everything was stripped out; only the basic box structure remained. Column widths were changed, to better match the Intranet, and the top menu was fixed so that it was not quite as tall (it was too tall in the Zmail skin). Patches for Internet Explorer 6, the only browser available on most computers in TJHSST, were applied to make everything work less horribly. The rounded corners came from mozilla-specific CSS, so unfortunately the round corners only worked in Firefox. Real Gmail uses images. Eventually it was all put into smarty template files, replacing almost all of the Intranet style code, and it almost looked good. The last finishing touch was the menu selector on the left. The blue background changes depending on the module, just like in Gmail, and was a true hack to implement.
I will guesstimate that we had a 50% success rate. This way, success can be defined as either people fooled or people not fooled, you decide. Several teachers sent emails with notes of congratulations, or complaints about changes in the new style. Nothing, however, was heard from the eighth period office. Their computers never saw the new intranet, as we redirected them to Google Schools Legacy. It is still unknown if they noticed; I haven't asked.