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17/11/2008 by

Google Switch: How A Hoax Turned Viral

In some Dutch colleges its not unusual to concept and develop your own project. My own (former) university, Communication and Multimedia Design, is one of them. Creating the things you see in your future vision of multimedia is a great way to get creative and amaze the world with your vision.

Sometimes, a students project ends up in one hell of a good viral: Google Switch. This is a story of three students that created something awesome.

How it began
Its september 2006. Three enthusiastic students (Egbert Veenstra, Sytse-Jan Kooistra and Sam Baas) come up with the concept of a mobile device that should change the world of cellular phones. No more slide phones, no more clam shells. Touch screen, without a stylus, was their vision of the mobile device of the future. They documented their project well, wrote functional-, technical- and user interface designs and consult teachers for insights. The second objective was going viral with their product. Try to see if it could get any uptake in the blogosphere. Create a hype and present it to the right sources. Give it a funky name and maybe the folks online will believe this is what the iPhone will look like. Until this moment, there has only been some rumors about the launch of a phone by Apple, no functionality or any kind of other information is giving out to any kind of source.

iPhone launch
Suddenly the iPhone launches. The official one, presented by Steve Jobs at the MacExpo in 2007. Its a big bummer for the project team. Their hype got “stolen” by something real. They did spend a lot of time on all the functions of their dream phone. Amazingly the iPhone had a lot of aspects they already putted in their mobile device. Individually they created a good feeling: The product of an enormous company looked – in a functional way – a lot like the concept they created. To create their hype, they send spy shots of their phone to some mayor blogs to see if they believe their story: “Students have been given phones from the Google and Samsung to do some user testing. They signed an NDA, but what the heck, here are our secret pics.”

Mission Going Viral: Succeeded
“At first, we had no idea if any of the blogs would report about the Google phone. We only send it to Gizmodo and Engadget, two of our favorite blogs about gadgets. We sent it in the morning, went for lunch and when we came back they already posted about it. The news was extremely hot; Engadget even mentioned the concept as a possible iPhone killer. The news spread extremely quickly. Even an image search now for Google Phone or Google Switch results in a lot of images about our concept!”

More background information
In a phone interview with Sytse-Jan, he’s giving me the following inside information:
“We had in mind to launch this project as the iPhone. We were expecting the iPhone to come, we followed the rumors closely of course, but didn’t expect Steve to launch it this soon. Creating a hype was a primary target of the project, so we would love to see it spread globally. Try to gain some knowledge about a subject that was uknown terrain, even for a lot of marketeers. But then we heard some rumors about Google preparing to launch an mobile device. Eventually this made everything a lot better. The iPhone created a huge amount of buzz, so branding the viral with Google and Samsung was a quick and easy decision. We documented everything very well and made sure the stories to both of the blogs matched. A funny thing is that Google was the big name in this matter. Eventhough we branded the phone as a cooperation between Google and Samsung, Samsung wasn’t mentioned in most of the articles. It got mentioned in the beginning, but we think that the name Google had more power and influence and caused the rumors and viral spread.”

Engadget named the project one of the greatest fakes of all time.

Egbert wrote the entire story in a pdf. You can download it here.


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