Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Unlock the Web’s Secret Content

Unlock the Web’s Secret Content

Some of the web’s most interesting and useful content is buried beneath the surface. Wayne Williams reveals how to access hidden gems that few people know about

The web has so much great free stuff that it might seem greedy to want even more, but if you dig below the surface you can uncover all manner of delights. Some of the most interesting online content isn’t immediately visible to the casual browser because it’s either still being tested, is supposed to have been removed, isn’t prominently flagged on the site’s homepage or can’t be found for some other, more mysterious reason. In this feature, we reveal the web’s best-kept secrets. Over the following six pages, we show you how to access content that’s no longer available, unlock hidden tests and experiments, reveal secret tools and forbidden sites, and much more.

We also reveal some of the latest Easter Eggs concealed in your favourite websites and software, from the cute cat that’s hidden in Android Nougat to Google’s secret stock of animal noises.


Download Adobe Labs pre-releases

Adobe rolls out beta versions of programs through its Labs site ( for you to try, although you’d be forgiven for never knowing it was there. These downloads include new versions of Flash Player and Adobe AIR, as well as plugins and extensions for Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom image-editing tools. Occasionally, it also makes preview builds of major programs such as Lightroom available for free, so it’s certainly worth checking back from time to time.

Sign up for BBC iPlayer beta tests

The BBC is always experimenting with new features and technology in its iPlayer service, and invites you to try its latest tools. If you own an Android device, you can sign up for the Mobile iPlayer beta programme ( and test new features in the mobile app prior to full release. In recent years, these have included programme downloads and the Live Restart option for rewinding live broadcasts. There’s also a beta version of iPlayer for connected TVs and games consoles. See the FAQ at for instructions on switching to this.

Download AVG Antivirus betas

Popular antivirus firm AVG has a secret section on its website for beta testers. Sign up to test its software and get a free copy of the latest beta releases for AVG AntiVirus Free and/or AVG Internet Security. Bear in mind that the software may be buggy and offers no updates or technical support, but if you still want to try the new software for free, you can sign up at

Test secret beta tools on Wikipedia

Wikipedia has an experimental section called Beta Features that lets you try out new tools on the encyclopaedia and other Wikimedia sites. You need to be logged into the site to test the new features and, once you are, go to Example new features include Page Previews, which displays previews when you hover the mouse over a page link; and a New Wikitext Mode for editing articles.

Sample secret YouTube experiments

TestTube ( is Google’s secret ideas incubator for YouTube, where you can test experimental features for the video site before everyone else gets to try them. New features come and go, and at the moment YouTube is promoting ultrahigh-definition 4K videos, including some that run at 60fps (frames per second). If you have a display capable of viewing this content, sign up for TestTube and take a look at the impressive 4K60 playlist. Make sure the quality is set correctly under Settings.

Uncover the secrets of Gmail Labs

Google used to introduce various experimental features to its webmail service through its Labs. Sadly, this element of Gmail is no longer updated but Labs still exists and you can enable any of the tools that are available there. To access it, log into Gmail using your web browser and click the cog icon. Select Settings, then click the Labs tab and enable or disable any features that catch your eye, such as custom keyboard shortcuts, canned responses, multiple inboxes and a preview pane.


View web pages that have disappeared

Web pages can vanish from the internet for all sorts of reasons – they could be pulled by the site administrator, removed due to legal issues or culled accidentally. The site itself may currently be down or undergoing a revamp.

If you can’t open the page you want, it’s possible that Google may have ‘cached’ (saved) a copy when it indexed the site. To find out, search for the site or page in Google and, when the results appear, click the down arrow next to the web address and select Cached. The most recently saved version will then open in your browser, even if the page itself has since vanished.

Travel into the past with the Wayback Machine

The Wayback Machine ( is a crucial part of the massive Internet Archive that stores multiple snapshots of websites going back years. It currently has more than 284 billion pages that it’s saved over time. Just type in a site URL, press Enter and pick a year. Click any of the coloured circles on the calendar to see the site as it looked back then.

To give you an idea of the scale of what’s cached, the Web User site ( has, at the time of writing, been saved 1,106 times between 4 April 2001 and 16 March 2017.

A handy Site Search feature was added to the Wayback Machine last October, which lets you look for a site by typing in keywords that describe it (for example, “new york times”) rather than the exact URL. There’s also a new Wayback Machine add-on for Chrome ( that lets you view an archived version of any site you visit, be it a recent capture or the site’s very first incarnation.

Some images and media elements may be missing from older snapshots on the Wayback Machine, and the layout might not be quite as it was, but it gives you a good idea of how things looked, and may be the only way to view older removed content.

Access pages hidden in Google search results

The 2014 European Court of Justice ‘Right to be forgotten’ ruling forced Google (and other search engines) to remove links to certain stories deemed “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive, and not in the public interest”. The stories themselves remain on the web, but they no longer appear in search results. The ruling only affects searches performed in Europe, not the US, so if you search rather than, you’ll probably find the results you want. Google has removed the ‘Use’ link that used to appear on the homepage (although not vice versa), but you can go to to stop the web giant redirecting you to the UK version of the search engine.

Read BBC news stories hidden by Google

BBC news stories frequently get removed from Google as part of the European ‘Right to be forgotten’ ruling. The BBC lists all the affected entries in an effort to maintain transparency and trust – something it’s been doing since 2014. The list gets updated every month and you can view the removed stories at It will be interesting to see if the EU ruling still applies post-Brexit.

Discover removed Wikipedia articles

Wikipedia ( regularly removes articles that “do not meet the relevant criteria for content of the encyclopaedia”. Reasons for this include copyright violations, advertising or spam, vandalism and unreliable sources. Deletionpedia ( rescues Wikipedia articles which are “under discussion” before they can be deleted, and hosts a copy on the site. As with Wikipedia, you can search for a topic by name or view a random page. There are currently more than 44,000 rescued pages available to read – by repeatedly clicking ‘Random page’, we found forbidden articles on Trains of Central Railway (India), obscure actor Todd Michael Schwartzman and, ironically, a complaint about Wikipedia’s resident ‘deletionists’.

View hidden content on Google Maps

Google Maps now covers most of the planet – but not all of it. Some places are so classified they have been removed – typically blurred or covered – from Maps for security reasons. These include military air bases, nuclear sites, army headquarters and high-security prisons. You won’t be able to see them in Maps, but you can find out about some of them by watching the video at

One workaround is to try rival mapping service Bing Maps (, which uses its own aerial photography that’s sometimes higher quality and uncensored.


Unlock Facebook’s secret inbox

If someone who isn’t friends with you on Facebook tries to get in touch, their messages may end up being filtered into Facebook’s secret inbox. This is essentially a hidden spam folder but many non-spam messages end up here, too. To access the inbox in the web version of Facebook, click the Messages button at the top of the page, then click the Message Requests link and select ‘See filtered requests’. In iOS or Android, open Messenger and, at the bottom, tap People. Tap Message Requests and view ‘Filtered requests’.

Browse Quora without logging in

Quora ( is a useful question-and-answer site but, annoyingly, the only way to browse it is by signing in with your Google or Facebook credentials, or by creating an account with your email address. Otherwise, the content is hidden behind an overlay. However, there’s a trick you can use that lets you view Quora content without needing to log in. Simply browse Google for the question you want answering – “What are the funniest answers on Quora”, for example. Click a Quora result that comes up, and you’ll be able to view the answer on the site without logging in.

Alternatively, install the Firefox add-on Quora Login Bypass ( to close the overlay and jump straight into this hive of knowledge. Uncover secret Netflix subcategories There are thousands of secret categories in Netflix that you can only access by manually entering a specific code at the end of the URL –, for example. Instead of trying to guess all the secret categories, you can use the FindFlix add-on to do all the hard work for you. It’s available for both Chrome ( and Firefox (, and provides instant access to more than 7,500 hidden categories.

Find secret Amazon discounts

Amazon regularly cuts the price of products on its site, which can help you bag a bargain – if you know where to look. has a handy Amazon Discount Finder ( that lets you find hidden deals with up to 75% off the usual price. Choose a department to check, and an optional sub-category, and enter some keywords if you’re after something in particular. You can specify the discount range you’re looking for – by default, this is 50 to 100%, but you can widen or narrow it as required. You can also set a minimum and maximum price for the item, and choose to only show items that qualify for free delivery. Click the Search button to open Amazon in a new tab and see the available deals.

On the same page, MSE also has a tool that tells you whether a particular item is becoming cheaper or dearer on Amazon. Simply enter the product URL and click Go to view a full price history from the excellent price-tracking tool CamelCamelCamel (


Search for content on the Deep Web

Not to be confused with the Dark Web – which is a collection of often legally and morally dubious websites on an encrypted network that can only be accessed using special software – the Deep Web refers to all the pages on the web that you can’t find using a normal search engine. There’s a huge number of these pages that you don’t know about – it’s estimated the Deep Web is around 500 times the size of the web itself – but you can uncover them if you know how.

You’ll find an extensive list of Deep Web search engines you can try at – our favourites include the WWW Virtual Library ( and DeeperWeb (

Access banned websites

Many sites that allow illegal downloads and file sharing have been banned by the UK courts. If you try to visit any of them, you’ll see a message from your ISP telling you that the site is blocked for legal reasons. You can get around this by installing a VPN, of which TunnelBear ( and CyberGhost ( are our current free favourites. Both work on Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS, and offer reliable, reasonably fast download and upload speeds. TunnelBear also has a nifty Chrome extension (

Although your ISP can tell when you access the web through a VPN (the port used by the tool to connect to the internet makes this apparent), it can’t see what you’re doing there and, besides, VPN services are perfectly legal to use.

Watch geographically restricted videos

Some YouTube videos – mostly music and TV ones – won’t play in the UK because of geographical restrictions. This can be frustrating, but you can get around the block by using the TunnelBear VPN add-on for Chrome mentioned in the previous tip. When you encounter a video that’s restricted in this country, set TunnelBear to the US, toggle it on, and reload the page.

View content hidden behind overlays

Some websites use an overlay to mask their content. The overlay could be a message asking you to sign up to a mailing list, for example, or pestering you to subscribe. Not only do you have to waste time reading the message that appears over the site, but you then have to work out what you need to do to close the overlay.

To solve this problem, install BehindTheOverlay ( for Chrome and Firefox and, when you encounter a site with an overlay, just click its toolbar button to close the annoyance and reveal the page below. The add-on hasn’t been updated in a while, but we found that it still works fine.


Get a free Android app every week

Google Play has followed Apple’s lead and introduced a free App of the Week. This is available to Android owners via the Google Play store, but it’s currently only offered to users in the US. However, Android owners in the UK can see what the free app is by using a VPN to visit the new page at (the page won’t display if you visit it without a VPN). As well as being able to view the free app, you’ll also be able to install it on your device.

Visit Google Play’s secret Indie Corner

Some of the best Android games come from independent developers and Google Play is highlighting these in its Indie Corner, which you’ll find at You can browse New Indie Highlights, view Google’s Android Picks and explore Indie Masterpieces such as Room, Monument Valley and Alto’s Adventure.

Play Facebook Messenger’s secret games

Facebook Messenger comes with some hidden games you can challenge your friends to play. These include a basketball game (send a basketball emoji to the person you’re chatting with, then tap the emoji in the chat window); a chess game (type @fbchess to play during a conversation); and a football game (send a football emoji to the person you’re chatting with, then tap the emoji in the chat window). You can also play classic arcade games such as Pac-Man, Track & Field 100M and Galaga. To access these, start a chat with someone, tap the game controller icon, pick a game and start playing.

Play Steam Early Access games

Entertainment platform Steam ( lets you play and purchase games. It also has a special Early Access section ( that lets you discover and play early versions of new titles. These games are likely to evolve over time, based on community feedback. To try an Early Access game, you either buy it, or – if it’s free – start playing it. Once you have the game, all future updates for it will be free.


Tech companies love to sneak hidden features – known as Easter Eggs – into their sites and software. Here are some new ones you might not have discovered

Feed cats in Android Nougat

If you’ve got the latest version of Android, open the Settings menu, swipe down to ‘About phone’ and tap ‘Android version’ until an N appears with a cat emoji underneath. Pull down from the top of the screen twice to open the quick-settings menu, tap Edit and drag the ‘Empty dish’ icon to the notifications bar. Tap ‘Empty dish’, choose the food you want and a cat will eat it. You can name your pet and share it with friends.

Visit Skull Island on Google Maps

Kong: Skull Island hit the cinemas earlier this year, and Google has added the location of the fictional island to Google Maps. It’s in the Pacific Ocean, just south of the equator ( You can’t explore the island (there’s a marker, but nothing else), but you can leave a review.

Siri thinks you’re Lego Batman

If you have an iPhone or iPad, summon Siri and say “Hey computer”, and she will respond to you as if you are Lego Batman. Try it several times to get different responses. This was added to tie in with the recent Lego Batman Movie and may be removed eventually.

Google’s Chrome smileys

If you open more than 100 tabs in Chrome on iOS or Android (hey, some people do), the tab counter will switch to show an old-school smiley face – :) on iOS and :D on Android. However, if you open over 100 tabs in Chrome in Incognito mode in Android, you’ll see a winking face – ;)

Listen to animal sounds in Google Search

If you ask Google: “What sound does a cow make?”, the search giant will respond with a mooing noise. That’s not the only animal sound available to listen to, either. The rest of the menagerie includes sheep (baa), horse (neigh), lion (roar), tiger (grr) turkey (gobble gobble), dog (woof), cat (meow), and ape (ooh ooh eeh eeh).

Play games in Google Search

To play Solitaire, just search for solitaire in Google. Or search for tic-tac-toe if you fancy a game of noughts and crosses instead. This works in both the web version and in Google’s mobile app.

Settle an argument using Google Search

If you can’t decide between two possible choices, the easiest solution is to flip a coin. If you don’t have any loose change on you, Google can help. Go to Search and type flip a coin and Google will tell you Heads or Tails.