Youtube has many dark corners. Y'know the ones I'm talking about, those odd and bizarre videos you find yourself watching at 4 o'clock in the morning while still only dressed in your underpants. Usually they just contain the insane ramblings of Youtube conspiracy theorists, or if you're really lucky, real-life, totally genuine footage of aliens and/or ghosts.
However, some of the weirdest videos on Youtube can be the simplest: take for example WebDriver Torso.
What is WebDriver Torso?
WebDriver Torso is the name of an enigmatic and strange Youtube account, which until recently, perplexed internet-users around the world. Generally, it is now believed the truth of these videos has been revealed, but like all good mysteries, I'll leave that until the end.
WebDriver's videos all follow the same format (with some very special exceptions). They consisted of slides of blue and red rectangles dancing around the screen to a computer generated tone. The videos are of various lengths (but usually 11 seconds) while the movement of the rectangles are also unique to each clip. What's more, WebDriver Torso has uploaded 430,000 of these since its birth, which equates to around 400 a day - which is almost impossible for a human user. Furthermore, the videos are uploaded around the clock, suggesting WebDriver never sleeps. Check out one typical video below:
However, although most of the videos are cut from the same cloth, there are a few, equally strange, exceptions. For example, the very first video uploaded to the channel, catchily titled 0.455442373793, was locked behind a 1.99 euro ($2.76) paywall that was only available in France. The actual video was a clip from the cartoon series Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and showed the three food-stuff characters failing to win a trivia quiz.
Another unusual video, which an additional French connection, was titled 00014, and was a 6 second clip of the Eiffel Tower brilliantly lit up. It appeared to be filmed from a Parisian balcony and for a fleeting second we see a glimpse of a Facebook page on a laptop. This video also featured a comment from WebDriver themselves which stated "Matei is highly intelligent." They would later also state "I am Matei".
The videos were initially stumbled upon in an article about obscure Youtube uploads, and since then internet users began to provide some imaginative explanations for the strange videos. Let's look at a few of them below:
One of the earliest and most pervasive theories was that WebDriver was a modern equivalent of number stations - shortwave radio emitters which broadcasted coded messages to spies operating abroad.
It was suggested the seemingly random movement of the rectangles could correlate to a sophisticated coded language which could only be decoded by operatives with the right equipment. In this sense, it would work much in the same way as older number stations - many of which were disbanded in the 1990s and 2000s.
Meanwhile, the odd French connection also added into the theory, with some suggesting the uploader could be an agent for a French intelligence agency - or alternatively, be spying on France themselves.
Another, slightly less believable, theory was that WebDrive Torso was being used to communicate with aliens in a simple mathematical language. The main evidence for this seemed to be the videos similarity to the tonal language used in films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
When The Daily Dot reached out to Selenium, a software company who creates a piece of automated website testing software called WebDriver, they also received the alien hypothesis. Patrick Lightbody, who has worked with Selenium since 2005, denied any connection between the company and the videos, adding:
Those videos look like they are trying to make contact with aliens.
Although I think we can assume he is joking, others took his statement literally.
Others noted that the mysterious nature of WebDriver fitted the profile of Cicada 3301, an equally mysterious 'recruitment tool' that claims to seek highly intelligent individuals for an unknown reason.
WebDrivers ambiguous statement regarding intelligence, plus the odd nature of the videos lead some to suggest they were all part of the larger Cicada puzzles - although no one could make any sense of them.
Another theory, uploaded to Youtube, was that the videos could be actually revealing blueprints or construction plans. When the outlines of the rectangles are marked and overlaid each other, you get an image which looks slightly reminiscent of building floor plans - although admittedly a pretty crazy building.
So What Are They Actually?
The attention that surrounded the WebDriver videos soon made the obscure channel the focus of several internet investigators' attention, such as Italian blogger Soggetto Ventuno. He discovered that the videos all belong to a network called "ytuploadtestpartner_torso", which was itself linked to a Facebook page of Johannes Leitner, a Google Zürich employee. A stroll through Johannes' Facebook also showed he was friends with Matei Gruber, who was also an employee at Google Zürich.
It seemed Google, who own Youtube, initially tried to cover up Ventuno's discoveries by deleting the Facebook and Twitter pages linked to the network, but soon it became all too clear what WebDriver really was - a Youtube quality assurance system. It works like this, the quality of each video is compared to the quality of the one before it, therefore ensuring a consistency of quality for Youtube videos.
Finally, Google held up their hands and revealed it was them -- not aliens or spies -- who are responsible for the weird videos. Of course, they did this in the most Youtube way possible, by referencing Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up". They stated:
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.
The YouTube even went so far as to include Rick in one of their WebDriver videos. Well, kind of:
So there you have it. One of the internet's biggest mysteries solved, unless of course Google is controlled by alien spies...