Amazon’s April Fool takes us back to the future

Who ever doubted that Amazon had a sense of humor? For its celebration of April Fools’ Day, set its home page to a 1990s’ Web 1.0 version of itself, but there was a commercial method to the prank as it was full of links to books and products featuring practical jokes or legendary April Fools’ hoaxes.

The lead book was Cubicle Warfare: 101 Office Traps and Pranks. This 2008 title by John Austin looks like a real crackerjack, although reviews warn that some of the stunts could be foolish enough to get you fired. However, the book is shockingly not available for Kindle, so you’ll have to order a print copy and get ready for next year.

The other main promoted book is by the great sportswriter George Plimpton — The Curious Case of Sidd Finch. I’d never heard of this book despite being a fan of Plimpton’s Paper Lion, but it apparently came about after Plimpton wrote a Sports Illustrated article published in April 1985 about a monk called Siddhartha Finch who was set to become the new sensation of baseball with the New York Mets. The article took in a lot of people and became so successful that Plimpton wrote a novel all about Sidd Finch.

The home page also features links to merch from the ‘mythical island of San Serriffe’ (a legendary hoax from The Guardian way back in the 1970s, much loved by typographers), and a reference to growing your own Spaghetti Tree (an even more legendary jape from even further back in the 1950s by the BBC’s Panorama current affairs programme).

Strung along — a good crop on the spaghetti tree.

The normally super-serious nature of Panorama and the relatively unknown nature of spaghetti in post-war Britain meant this effort was widely believed. Disappointingly, the Amazon spaghetti tree links just take you to an opportunity to purchase packets of pasta, rather than instructions on how to propagate a twist of spaghetti.

Amazon even had a disclaimer at the bottom of its page proclaiming Copyright 1996-99, but the most interesting thing about the retro home page, for a web nerd like me at least, is that the whole page was a picture — a 1,000 px x 1,057 px jpeg, to be precise — in which the links had been image-mapped.

It certainly took me back to those halcyon days when HTML still ruled the way that web pages looked, with CSS only just being developed and usable content management systems still a glimmer in the future.

Despite all that, I like the retro Amazon page — just look at all the information and links you’ve got on a single page and compare it with the current home page below, is this really progress? Incidentally, I don’t believe the Amazon Dash business shown below is an April Fool, is it?