Culture

The Four Greatest Unsolved Mysteries On The Internet

Webdriver Torso was solved this week -- but the jury's still out on these other ones.

Why did more than 150,000 people watch this 11-second video of a blue and red rectangle moving around on a white screen? Simple: no one knew what it was.

Because if there is one thing that can unite the Internet’s interest for longer than 1.5 seconds, it is a good mystery.

In isolation, this video was not mysterious. But it was uploaded by a YouTube account called Webdriver Torso, which, for a while, certainly was. Launched in March 2013, the account uploaded a new video every 20 seconds, and every video was the same: red and blue rectangles jumping around on a white screen, with a soundtrack of different test tones. Webdriver’s YouTube channel uploaded almost 80,000 of these videos.

That’s 400 a day, since September 2013.

Out of this insane collection, only two don’t fit the rectangle formula. The first video Webdriver uploaded, in August 2013, was called 0.455442373793 and is only viewable in France. Users have to pay two Euro to watch it, and it is a short clip from the cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The other unique video was uploaded in October last year; it is called 00014, and it is of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. Webdriver commented exclusively on this video, leaving just one line: “Matei is highly intelligent.” Who the hell is Matei?

Webdriver came to the attention of the Internet after WIRED published an article about it in February this year, claiming that the videos had no discernible pattern. The Internet got to work trying to decipher them almost immediately, and the theories quickly piled up. Some thought it was a new way for spies to communicate via encrypted messages. Some thought it was Google testing super advanced 3D digital imaging software of the future. Others, of course, concluded that it was aliens.

The intention behind the videos remained elusive for a good few months, and speculation was intense. An Italian blogger who calls himself “Sogetto Ventuno” went to great lengths to actually solve the mystery; he found that Webdriver Torso was just Google’s Zurich office testing YouTube’s video upload quality. The Google people were happy to stay in the shadows for a while, dropping easter eggs every now and then — like this Rick Roll clip, published last week.

But five days ago, Engadget.com confronted Google about it, leading them to issue a hilarious statement — again in the spirit of Rick Astley: “We’re never gonna give you uploading that’s slow or loses video quality, and we’re never gonna let you down by playing YouTube in poor video quality. That’s why we’re always running tests like Webdriver Torso.”

And with that, the case was closed.

As an Internet mystery, Webdriver was successful because it came with a strong sense of narrative; a convincing beginning, middle and end. But thankfully for everyone who loves a good conspiracy, there are some online mysteries that remain unsolved…

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