YouTube’s great mystery solved

Webdriver Torso – this was the name of one of the biggest mysteries of the Internet. For 8 months, 11-second videos were uploaded to this particular YouTube account, showing colored rectangles on a white background, usually accompanied by some kind of sine tone. According to some, these were supposed to be secret messages.

YouTube's great mystery solved

Webdriver Torso-that was the name of one of the Internet’s biggest mysteries. For 8 months, 11-second videos showing colored rectangles on a white background accompanied mostly by some sort of sine tone were uploaded to this particular YouTube account. According to some, these were supposed to be secret messages sent between spies, while others pointed to alien civilizations. However, the reality is (as is usually the case) much more prosaic.

Video files were appearing on Torso’s Webdriver account at breakneck speed – sometimes a single video would appear every two minutes. They all had titles consisting of 9 random letters and numbers. It became viral, information about Webdriver Torso appeared in many media, and on internet forums many people took their time to solve the puzzle. Even Google made a joke out of everything – paste the phrase “Webdriver Torso” into the search engine to get an animated Doodle dedicated to it.

The first hint of what these videos might actually be came when one internet user pointed out that he’d been to a Google conference on set-top boxes last year and was shown very similar-looking test footage designed to verify picture and sound quality. The most light on the mystery, however, was shed by Italian blogger Soggetto Ventuno, who discovered that Webdriver Torso was part of a series of ytuploadtestpartner_torso accounts that featured similar recordings. Many of those accounts disappeared from the Web, some became private, and related Facebook and Twitter pages appeared in between, where Ventuno found two names – Johannes Leitner and Matei Gruber – employees of Google’s Zurich-based Swiss subsidiary.

Finally, as the online detectives were getting closer to solving the mystery, the following video appeared on Torso’s Webdriver channel with an image of a character that every Internet user must associate (if not – explanation in the video even below):

So the Engadget portal recently decided to ask Google for an official explanation and managed to get quite a funny answer styled on the lyrics of a Rick Astley song (in the original below, we won’t translate, because in translation all the magic escapes) and explaining the whole riddle.

“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.”

It turns out, then, that Webdriver Torso is one of the accounts to which videos are automatically uploaded in order to check that they retain near-original quality – Google’s way of making sure that YouTube’s servers are doing a good job of compressing the videos uploaded there.

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