The Origins of the 'Anonymous Animals' in Your Google Docs

Justin Sullivan/Getty Image
Justin Sullivan/Getty Image

Every time you open up a Google Doc with the setting “anyone with a link can view,” the contents of that document probably aren't the only thing you scan. Your eyes likely also check for the icon on the right hand corner to see whether you’re a wombat, an aurochs, a chupacabra, or any of the other 70 animal icons that are currently available to be assigned to each anonymous user.

All shared Google Docs feature a row of these animal icons. The images are assigned to every user currently viewing the file who wasn't directly invited to view it. That means if you share a document via a "sharable link" rather than specifically typing in someone's email address to invite them, the viewer will show up as an anonymous animal—even if you have their contact information.

Those animals go back further than you think, according to Google spokeswoman Kyree Harmon. In 2012, Google employees simply wanted to make the company's straightforward Docs feature—which was rebranded from "Google Documents" and included as part of the new Google Drive suite—more fun. “At the time, the proposal for anonymous viewers was to show them as a unique but lengthy number sequence, e.g. Anonymous35123512425,” Harmon tells Mental Floss. “[Then] the team wanted to see if they could come up with something more friendly and more human—and during a brainstorm, the alliteration Anonymous Animals came up. From there, the visual design team got involved to build out icons.”

According to Harmon, nobody remembers which creatures started it all, but “they were all fairly typical animals.” Eventually, the list expanded to critters that were a little more playful—not to mention mythical and even non-animal. (And in case you were wondering, no, you can’t choose your animal or check which icon you've been given without having another user in the Doc tell you. That’s part of the fun!) That explains why the capybara, the world’s largest rodent, is on the list, along with the axolotl, a “smiling” baby-faced salamander; Nyan Cat, a viral meme from 2011 featuring a pixelated flying feline with a Pop-Tart for a body; and the kraken, a giant, squid-like sea monster from Scandinavian legends.

Gradually, Harmon says, the engineers got even more creative and began to include those on the endangered and extinct list, like the quagga, an animal related to the modern zebra that went extinct in 1883. (Since then, there have been attempts to “revive” the species by breeding zebras that shared the quagga’s distinctive pattern, in order to create herds that resembled the original quaggas.)

The list grew quickly, and by 2016, it had reportedly expanded to include 68 animals. Moose, tiger, and llama had yet to show up at that point, and neither had the jackalope, a half-rabbit half-deer creature whose taxidermied remains appear mounted on walls throughout the American west. Those animals were added later, and according to Harmon, there are no plans to expand the current catalog of 73 creatures.

So what happens if there are more anonymous users actively using a Google doc than available animals? It doesn't happen often enough to be a concern. "If Docs were consistently receiving more than 73 simultaneous anonymous viewers," she says, "we certainly wouldn’t want to double up on any animal and cause confusion.”

For now, here's the complete roll call:

Chart of all the animals available in Google Docs
iStock, except for Nyan Cat, which is courtesy of http://www.nyan.cat/, prguitarman (LOL-Comics by Christopher Torres)

Need a Robot Vacuum? Neato's Botvac D6 Is $330 Off This Week

Neato
Neato

We've previously recommended robot vacuums as an amazingly easy way to keep your home free of dust, pet hair, and other allergy-triggering nasties, but with higher-tech models going for hundreds and hundreds of dollars, it can be hard to convince yourself you need a vacuum that badly. Except when there's a great sale, like this week's Best Buy deal on Neato's Botvac D6 Connected vacuum.

The app-controlled automated vacuum normally retails for $729, but it's going for $400 right now—a $330 discount. That's 45 percent off.

The Botvac D6, which came out in 2018 and is one of the company's fanciest models, features a battery life of 120 minutes, LaserScan technology that allows it to memorize your home's floorplan (including multi-level homes), a high-performance filter to collect allergens, a turbo mode with increased suction, a pre-scheduling feature, and that signature D-shape that's made to capture debris in tight corners. Neato advertises the Botvac D6's combination of brushes as being 70 percent larger than most other robot vacuums' brushes, allowing it to pick up even more pet hair and dirt.

It also has a bunch of smart features that lower-tier robot vacuums don't offer, like the Quick Boost charging feature, which allows the vacuum to return to its base to quickly top off its charge—just enough to finish the job—if it's running low on juice, and the ability to set no-go lines around pet bowls, piles of cords, and other areas that you don't want your vacuum zooming through. You can control the vacuum via your phone, Amazon Home, Alexa, your Apple Watch, the Neato Chatbot on Facebook, and more.

This is only the latest Neato vacuum to go on super-sale. In March, the company's Botvac D4 was also featured in Best Buy's weekly deals, selling for $300. That model (which features 75 minutes of battery life to the D6's 120) is currently selling for $400 at Best Buy as well.

Here's a tip: We bet your dad would love getting one of these babies for Father's Day. It would also make an excellent gift for a new grad moving into their first grown-up apartment.

Buy it from Best Buy for $400. The deal lasts until 10 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday, May 27.

If controlling your cleaning plan with your phone doesn't seem exciting enough to you, there are plenty of even fancier robot cleaning assistants out there. May we suggest one that will vacuum, mop, and clean itself?

A New Hypersonic Jet Could Get You From New York to London in 90 Minutes

iStock/baona
iStock/baona

For impatient travelers, the next wave of air transportation could be a game-changer. Aerospace company Hermeus Corporation recently announced that it has obtained funding to pursue development of a plane that could travel five times faster than the speed of sound, getting passengers from New York to London in just 90 minutes. But it won't be a cheap flight, and the idea isn't without some baggage.

The venture, which was founded by former employees of private space travel companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, is seeking to craft a plane that can travel at Mach 5 and reach a cruising speed of 3300 mph.

That ambition will likely take years to materialize. Hermeus co-founder and CEO AJ Piplica told CNN that development is projected to last a decade. He anticipated one-way tickets will cost in the range of $3000.

It currently takes about seven hours to travel from New York to London. Previously, travelers were able to cut that time down to roughly four hours, traveling at twice the speed of sound in the supersonic Concorde jet. High fuel consumption and expensive tickets led to the retirement of the aircraft in 2003. Whether Hermeus can overcome the environmental concerns of such high-octane travel and gather enough passengers willing to pay a premium for less time spent in the air remains to be seen.

[h/t CNN]

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