The 250-foot, four-story barge moored off San Francisco Bay's Treasure Island might not have attracted much attention were it not for its owner: Google.
The internet giant is known for its unique ventures (a cure for death and driverless cars, just to name two) and has remained mum, leaving even the government in the dark for the moment. "When they decide to let us know what they plan to do with it, or hope to do with it, then we can decide if it's allowable," says Larry Goldzband, chief executive of the local Bay authority.
Instead, Google’s latest project has become the object of much speculation. "This is like catnip for conspiracy theorists and nerds," said Paul Saffo, technology forecaster and consulting professor at Standford.
Here are the top five theories:
1. Floating, wave-powered data center
One of the most widely reported theories since the story broke is that the giant structure will serve as a floating data center. Freedom of Information Act requests have uncovered a 2009 Google patent for a "water-based" data center. According to Nick Layzell of Telehouse, "cooling is the big cost for any data centre," so proximity is a plus, and why not also take advantage of the unlimited kinetic energy of waves to power the whole thing?
2. Secret new Google Glass store
Another theory says the barge may actually be the home of Google's next big marketing push. Local news station KPIX 5 reports that government sources have hinted the barge will serve as a "kind of giant Apple Store" for the company's futuristic new line of computer eye wear, Google Glass. After construction is complete, Google would then tow it across the Bay to Fort Mason, where it would be anchored and open to the public.
3. Giant publicity stunt
In this scenario, Google has spent millions of dollars to weld together empty shipping containers for months with no other purpose than attracting media attention. The company has been prone to pulling stunts in the past, with unreleased phones "forgotten at a bar" by Google employees showing up on the internet, but this would take the timeless PR-stunt to a whole new level. In any case, whatever the barge actually turns out to be, Google's secrecy is most certainly in and of itself an ingenious publicity stunt.
4. Google party barge
Google is world-renowned for creating a unique work environment for its employees. The company's new 160,000 square foot offices in London includes a flower-power-themed board room and a hobbit sitting-area. The Google party barge would be the logical next step. The company already holds a big annual bash every year that one attendee referred to as "a kind of nerd Las Vegas." A party barge could ostensibly be cheaper than renting out a huge venue year after year and the company could let employees play with all the new, secret gadgets in complete security out on the high seas.
5. Google is starting its own country
Has the NSA scandal finally pushed Google over the edge? Perhaps the most improbable explanation is that Google plans on towing the giant barge out to sea stuffed to the gills with its servers in order to keep your private information out government hands. A less altruistic motivation may also be to avoid paying taxes. If this plan sounds improbable, it could technically be possible. A former WWII Sea Fort in the North Sea has been occupied and declared as the sovereign nation of Sealandia by former British pirate radio broadcaster Paddy Roy Bates since 1967.