The Banal Webdriver Torso Mystery

Space Alien

Among computer geeks, Webdriver Torso has been a big deal for the last week or so. You should feel good about yourself if you have no idea what I’m talking about. But let me explain, because it is rather interesting. Webdriver Torso is a YouTube Channel. It was started roughly six months ago. And in that time, it has uploaded over 77,000 videos. And other than two that I’ll discuss later, they are all of the same format.

Each video is 10 seconds long. The image displays a white background with a red and a blue rectangle. Along with the images are tones that sound like something that would come out of the old modems. The image and tone frequency changes once per second. Here is the most recent upload:

Thus far, no one knows who is behind Webdriver Torso and this is driving a lot of people crazy. In fact, some people have suggested it might be space aliens, although I don’t know how serious they are. So Stephen Beckett at the BBC decided to look into it, Webdriver Torso YouTube Mystery Clips’ French Connection. And he found out some interesting things.

Webdriver Torso History

The first video posted to the channel was a clip from the animated television series, Aqua Teen Hunger Force. And strangely, it is only accessible to French viewers and then only if you pay two euros for the privilege. This video sat on the channel all alone for a month before the standard videos started to appear. And then, after more than a thousand of these things, a six-second video of the Eiffel Tower at night was uploaded. So Beckett thinks whoever is doing it is French.

In the article, Beckett seems to have the solution to the riddle, but he just doesn’t want to accept it:

Perhaps it could it be a piece of stray automation software?

The channel shares part of its name with Selenium WebDriver, a tool used to test websites…

A related explanation was put forward by The Guardian, which spoke to software engineer Isaul Vargas. He said he’d seen a video of these patterns—created by set-top box provider YouView—filmed at a conference.

However, when the BBC spoke to Mr Vargas he acknowledged he had been mistaken: “I found the video and when I re-watched it I found that wasn’t the case, it had a different test pattern.”

However, he added that he still thought that the patterns could be the result of some sort of automated tests.

Mystery Solved?

Exactly. Clearly, some person or company has developed a new program for uploading videos onto YouTube. So they created a testing program that creates random videos and then uploads them. It may then download them and correlate them with the original image as well. It could also be someone doing a related test like looking at changes that YouTube makes to videos. Or any number of other things.

I think it is only mysterious for people who don’t have actual experience with how software is developed and tested. I remain slightly curious as to exactly what Webdriver Torso is doing. But that’s just the details. And I know the details won’t be that exciting. Unless, of course, space aliens are sending the coordinates of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Update

It turns out the channel belongs to Google and, as suspected, was used for testing.

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