Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Google crop circles

Google UK's homepage is today given over to a "doodle" showing a flying saucer hovering over crop circles. The word "Google" is spelt out in several crop circles, with what appears to be a tractor completing the letter "L".

The internet giant also posted a tweet on its Twitter account with the map reference 51.327629, -0.5616088, which eagle-eyed sci-fi fans have identified as the centre of the small town of Horsell in Surrey. This was the spot where HG Wells set the first UFO landing in his novel The War of the Worlds.

Everyone's trying to read deep significance into this. Is it about abduction? Or aliens? Or Horsell? Or just crop circles? No. It's almost certainly a viral marketing campaign teasing people ahead of some launch in a week or two. One possible explanation is that it's trailing an online "happening" that will coincide with the 143rd anniversary of Wells's birth next week.

Crop circles were once fascinating additions to the English countryside, but now they have become tacky vehicles for corporations to advertise just about anything. A cottage industry has grown up with groups of circle-makers ready - for a price - to reproduce just about anything. The Royal Bank of Scotland, Disney, NBC, UKTV, Red Bull, Greenpeace, Microsoft, Nike, Shredded Wheat, Pepsi, Weetabix, the BBC, The Sun, Mitsubishi, O2, Big Brother, National Geographic, and the Discovery Channel have all paid to emblazon fields with their signatures.

Now Google has jumped on the bandwagon. If you click on the crop circle icon, it brings up a search for crop circles. The first alien-themed doodle that Google ran was last week, when it had people guessing why it showed a flying saucer "abducting" the letter "O" in its name. Clicking on that doodle took users through to a page about "unexplained phenomenon".

Expect all to be explained next week.

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