Puzzles on YouTube

May 6, 2014 9:47 AM

YouTube is now the home of  about 77,395 mysterious videos that are being analyzed for pretty much the same number of reasons. The simple and randomly pitched videos have got people thinking if this is alien communication or anything else beyond that.For over 7 months,Webdriver Torso,, has been uploading a video every 20 seconds on its channel. Every video is pretty much the same: they’re each 10 seconds long, have the same white backdrop but flick through 10 still images of a blue and red rectangle. The video also has electronic tones at random pitches and that isn’t the only thing.  The positions and sizes of the rectangles also seem to be completely random, the only thing being constant is the”aqua.flv” stamp in the lower left-corner. Check this video out.

Puzzling netizens all over the world, a  search for the creator of these videos has been on for over a week now. With theories ranging from alternate reality games to extraterrestrial activity,oddly espionage and viral marketing seem to be the widely accepted theories. Enkidu, an avid BoingBoing user describes what looks curiously like a modern counterpart to the mysterious “numbers stations” of the cold war, radio frequencies carrying baffling sequences–spy codes!–of numbers and words. With espionage, being high up on the list of possibilities Enkidu does agree that since it is out of his expertise, he wouldn’t really know what the codes were. One theory is that “Webdriver” is the name  of a product in the Selenium suite of browser automation tools. While these may for instance, be used to test performance and stability of a web application, it’s very possible that this could be an automation code for the way YouTube uploads its videos. Calling theses videos codes of  espionage dating from the Cold War (interesting theory huh!), these cold war relics are radio stations that are broadcasting seemingly random numbers at periodic intervals. Called the basis of a method of encoded communication using what are known as “one-time pads”, these large sheets of random data let spies create unbreakable messages as long the enemy doesn’t learn what it is.

Brendan O’Connor, The Daily Dot, tried reaching the creators of the videos but surprisingly found the door shut in that direction. His queries and e-mails went unanswered, but the search led him to Selenium, a company working on Selenium Ice, whose function is to automate testing websites. But the creators from Selenium specifically Patrick Lightbody, who spoke to O’Connor was quoted saying, “Those videos look like they are trying to make contact with aliens.” It looked likely that “Webdriver Torso” was part of this project, not only because of the shared neologism but also because automation seemed like the only plausible explanation for uploading this quantity of video.

A New York- based software tester, Isaul Vargas, spotted the videos on BoingBoing and recognised them from an automation conference held by a European firm that made streaming software for set-top boxes, over a year ago.YouView, UK, needed to be able to quickly and reliably upload digital video, something it tested by uploading short, randomly generated snippets to its YouTube channel and running image-recognition software on it. “Considering the volume of videos and the fact they use YouTube, it tells me that this is a large company testing their video encoding software and measuring how Youtube compresses the videos,” says Vargas.

While this seems like an acceptable explanation and quashed any theories of espionage or alien communication, the plot seems to get murkier as further investigations contine. Isaul tracked down the presentation he saw by YouView and noted that although they featured similar videos they weren’t really identical. While the testing theory still stands, the uploader  left a clue that is really hard not to miss.  A thousand videos into the series, is one six-second clip that breaks the mould. A short video of the Eiffel Tower, featuring a comment from the uploader: “Matei is highly intelligent.”

Assuming Matei to be French and a public figure, there are 2 possibilities-  Basarab Matei, who works on image recognition at the University of Paris North (suggested by @DAddYE), and Matei Mancas, who works on attention modelling at the University of Mons in Belgium (suggested by @marquis). Attempts on trying to get them to shed some light about it have failed.  Dead-ends seem to be synonymous with the investigation, but that doesn’t mean we’re up against a wall. Liking his own video posted on 2nd May for the first time, Webdriver Torso surely is someone or something that isn’t just your average automation software, may just be something more. An introductory video on classic French anime, videos with the colours of the French flag, the Eiffel tower, Matei all just point to an apparent French connection. Wait for more videos and more updates on this little mystery.