The Underwhelming Mystery of Webdriver Torso

You know, sometimes I’ll sit down to write an article and I’ll think to myself, “This is going be really cool.” But then, occasionally, it turns out that some mysteries aren’t really all that mysterious. Such is the case with Webdriver Torso.

Webdriver Torso was (well, is) a mysterious YouTube channel that began posting videos a little over a year ago. A user named Webdriver Torso would continuously upload 11-second videos involving red and blue rectangles and repeating sound tones.

Every few minutes or so, a new video would appear, and they still do. All 202,968 of them. What are they? Who is this person? Why?

For months, a maelstrom of rumors surrounded the channel. Some wondered if they were alien messages, but one of the more popular theories — which even hit the mainstream news — suggested the videos contained encrypted codes, and that they were a “modern-day equivalent” of the old numbers stations. Their origin, it seemed, had been tracked down to France. Could they be messages to French spies? became the next question.

But then the cracks in the mystery started to show. Even today, if you type Webdriver Torso into the YouTube search bar, the website will take on a strange red and blue-boxed appearance, mimicking the contents of the mysterious videos. An amusing reference, or could Google have been behind it all along?

Then an Italian blogger named Soggetto Ventuno arrived on the scene. He discovered that the curious Webdriver Torso was a member of a network called ytuploadtestpartner_torso, which was associated with social media accounts that involved a number of Google employees in Zurich. Bingo.

That’s not to mention one of Webdriver Torso’s videos uploaded on June 2, 2014 that included, well, something unexpected:

And that was that. Engadget finally put an end to this YouTube mystery by getting Google to fess up to their shenanigans. It was a mystery that was never really meant to be a mystery; Webdriver Torso was nothing more than a testing ground for YouTube video quality. But after it went viral, they couldn’t help but have some fun with it. Google provided the following as an official statement to Engadget:

“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.”

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is one incredibly elaborate Rickroll.

Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.