Small, Dark, and Mysterious

UPDATE: It turns out that the mysterious grey box is simply an iFrame containing javascript. Crushing blow to conspiracy lovers.

If you're reading this post, you may already be familiar with the peculiar box (is it a page turn?) in the top left-hand corner of Gmail. What exactly is it? Who put it there? And in Google's world of pride and (at times) political statements, is there some sort of significant meaning behind the mystery box? Bloggers, tech enthusiasts, and just plain pundits have been regurgitating their thoughts, theories, and musings all over the web for the last week. TechCrunch recently embarked on their own Wonkian search for the golden ticket, offering prizes for readers with outlandish, elaborate, and detailed theories about the box.

Well, I for one hope that Google says nothing. I hope they leave us all out in the dark. I hope they sit back in their cubicles, feet up on the desk, and laugh. Just laugh. Laugh at us all.

First of all, is it a mistake? I have a hard time believing it is. Ask a middle school student with acne problems how hard it is to hide the latest assault on their face. Someone (probably a lot of someones), somewhere at Google knows exactly what is going on.

But set aside for just a moment your knowledge of the massive internet mogul that is Google. Revisit your embarrassing knowledge of romance movies. Dark and mysterious is good. Dark and mysterious is very good. Sound ridiculous? Maybe. But imagine that Google isn't Google. Imagine Google is a small, internet start up. Imagine Google is this blog. Dark and mysterious can be brilliant.

I'll admit it, the concept sounds a bit counter intuitive. We (including myself) critique websites on their ease of use in terms of navigation, or their ease of use in terms of my eyes. But we expect that now. Ease of use doesn't create buzz. In fact, the better it is, the more it fades into the background.

What are/were some of the most highly anticipated movies of this past year? Off the top of my head, I'd say Cloverfield and the Dark Knight (which, at this point, we should be giggling in schoolgirl excitement over). Both used brilliant marketing campaigns that functioned more as teases than infomercials. What if we applied our same ease of use principles to those marketing campaigns? The data is too hard to find. The navigation is too shaky to understand. The screen is too dark for the user experience. Fail. Fail. Triple Fail.

I know, I know, I know, movies and web design are two completely different animals. But I think you get my point. Is Google's mysterious box an attempt to create mystique and press? No, I don't think so. They are Google. They don't exactly need it. However, for us kids that are getting beat up at the playground by the internet cool kids, it can be worth the risk. Don't throw it out so quickly.

So every once in awhile, take a gamble. Be dark. Be mysterious. Who knows, maybe the girl will fall for it?

(Of course, maybe you'll just end up turning into the creepy guy down the street. Those trenchcoats aren't always cool. Trust me.)

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