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April Fool's Day, 1999
Webnode. (1999) A press release issued over Business Wire announced the creation of Webnode, a new company recently granted a government contract to regulate ownership of "nodes" on the Next Generation Internet (NGI). Each of these nodes (there were said to be over 50 million of them) represented a route that data could travel over the NGI. The company was licensed to sell each node for $100. Nodes would increase in value depending on how much traffic they routed. Owners would also receive usage fees for the data that flowed across their section of the internet. However, only individuals could own nodes, and no person could own more than 1,000 nodes. This limit was supposedly made in order to avoid monopolization of the internet by large corporations.
Although Webnode was not yet a publicly trade company, the press release declared that shares in the company could be reserved for later purchase, although no payment would currently be accepted. Because the Next Generation Internet was a real government project, many were led to believe that Webnode was also real (which, of course, it wasn't). Business Wire, however, didn't find the prank amusing. It sued the creators of the press release.
Arm the Homeless. (1999) The Phoenix New Times ran a story announcing the formation of an unusual new charity to benefit the homeless. Instead of providing the homeless with food and shelter, this charity would provide them with guns and ammunition. It was named 'The Arm the Homeless Coalition.' The story received coverage from 60 Minutes II, the Associated Press, and numerous local radio stations before the media realized the article was a hoax. The Phoenix New Times's joke was actually a reprise of a 1993 prank perpetrated by students at Ohio State University.
Euro Anthem. (1999) The Today program on BBC Radio 4 announced that the British National anthem ("God Save the Queen") was to be replaced by a Euro Anthem sung in German. The new anthem, which Today played for their listeners, used extracts from Beethoven's music and was sung by pupils of a German school in London. Reportedly, Prince Charles's office telephoned Radio 4 to ask them for a copy of the new anthem. St. James Palace later insisted that it had been playing along with the prank and had not been taken in by it.
Y2K solved. (1999) The Singapore Straits Times reported that a 17-year-old student from Singapore called Jack Hon Si Yue had created a small computer program that could solve the Y2K problem (caused by the inability of older computers to distinguish between 1900 and 2000). The teenager, described as being camera-shy and a C student, was said to have worked out the Y2K solution in 29 minutes while solving an algebra problem for his homework. Jack showed the solution to his father who, in turn, presented it to a technology consulting group known as Gardner. The student's family and the Gardner group then formed a joint venture called Polo Flair to commercialize the solution. Revenues from the joint venture were expected to top $50 million by September, 1999. The Straits Times received numerous calls from journalists and computer specialists seeking more information about the story. One television journalist wanted to know if Jack Hon Si Yue could be persuaded to go on TV, despite the fact that he was camera-shy. Clues that the article was a joke included the name of the joint venture, Polo Flair (an anagram for April Fool) and Jack's name, Si Yue, which means "April" in Chinese.
Azcot. (1999) The Tucson Weekly revealed that the Disney Corporation was planning to build a 150 square-mile theme park in Kokopelli County, Arizona. The park, which would be like a 21st century EPCOT, was code-named Azcot. It would include "a simulated Colorado River adventure, featuring raft-like carts which travel on submerged rails through a 1/4-scale fiberglass replica of the Grand Canyon," as well as "a cliff-dweller city featuring animatronic Anasazi grinding corn and weaving baskets," and Duckville, "a frontier town so expansive that if it were real, it would be the seventh largest city in Arizona, complete with covered-wagon monorail and a complex municipal stagecoach system." Lawyers for Disney had supposedly tried to suppress publication of the article before the Tucson Weekly went to print with the scoop.
BMW’s Klimatarbeiter. (1999) BMW unveiled new "Klimatarbeiter" technology, that could create a range of air conditioning ambiences inside of a car, including "Bavarian Mountain Medley," "New England Fall," "Bessarabian Breeze," or "English Summer." The technology was the brainchild of Dr. Heidi Luftkopf of BMW's Stenchnicht research facility in the Bavarian Mountains.
Smaugia Volans. (1999) The scientific journal Nature, in its online edition, revealed the discovery of "a near-complete skeleton of a theropod dinosaur in North Dakota." The discovery was referred to in an article by Henry Gee discussing the palaeontological debate over the origin of birds. The dinosaur skeleton had reportedly been discovered by Randy Sepulchrave of the Museum of the University of Southern North Dakota.
The exciting part of the discovery, according to the article, was that "The researchers believe that the dinosaur, now named as Smaugia volans, could have flown."
Bank Teller Fees. (1999) The Savings Bank of Rockville, a small, Connecticut-based bank, placed an ad in the Journal-Inquirer announcing that from that point forward it would be charging a $5 fee to customers who visited a live teller. The ad, which appeared on March 31, claimed that the fee was necessary in order to provide, "professional, caring and superior customer service." Although the ad was a joke, many customers did not perceive it as such. One woman reportedly closed her account at the bank because of it. The bank ran a second ad later revealing that the initial ad was a joke. The bank manager commented that the ad really "commits us to not charging such fees."
St. Louis Arena Fund. (1999) Rick Sanborn, a deejay for KLOU-FM in St. Louis, revealed to his listeners that a $24 million trust fund had recently been discovered that would be distributed to local residents. The trust fund had supposedly been established by the builder of the local sports Arena in 1929. He had left instructions to distribute the money to locals should the Arena ever be torn down. Since it was torn down in 1999, his order would go into effect. The money would be paid to anyone who held a St. Louis birth certificate issued after 1929. They would receive $1000 for every year of their age. Sanborn included fake reports and interviews along with his announcement. As a result of the prank, the St. Louis Citizens Service Bureau received over 75 calls before Sanborn revealed that the story was a hoax.
vBay. (1999) Website builder Vivid Studios debuted vBay, an eBay parody, which offered users the chance to "sell your junk" or "buy somebody's junk." Potential buyers could peruse auctions such as a Hotwired 1.0 commemorative lunch box, a "drastically reduced" portal kit, and an unclaimed "Cool Shopping Site of the Year" award. The site also included a special section for "antiques that aren't fakes."
Total Home Remote Electricity. (1999) Executives at 130 major companies received a professionally designed package of information about an exciting new product: Total Home Remote Electricity. This technology, manufactured by Ottmar Industries of Switzerland, allowed electricity to be beamed wirelessly anywhere within a house. Simply plug one of the small "projectors" into a wall outlet, and a safe electrical "aura" would envelop the home. By attaching a converter to any appliance, the appliance would be able to receive power at any location within the aura, even outside on the roof. "Did you ever imagine making toast on your roof?" the promotional material asked.
Accompanying the ads was a letter from a company called Hoffman York Plc that claimed to be an information-gathering service. Executives were invited to phone the 1-800 number to learn how Hoffman York could obtain information about products that might pose a competitive threat. The material provided was offered as an example. Over 30 people called the number, including three high-level executives. Hoffman York was really an advertising agency. The ads were April Fool's Day publicity stunts.
Telepathic E-Mail. (1999)
Red Herring Magazine profiled a revolutionary new internet technology called Orecchio (Italian for "ear"). This technology used the TIDE communications protocol (short for "Telepathic Internet Data Exchange") to allow users to compose and send e-mail telepathically. To e-mail telepathically users wore a device nestled between their ear and skull. The company developing this device was Tidal Wave Communications, led by Yuri Maldini, a computer genius from Estonia. Adding credibility to the story was a reference to some real research at Emory University in which researchers had allowed a paralyzed man to move a cursor across a computer screen by implanting a device in his brain. Mr. Maldini, who had once been employed by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, claimed that he had developed the idea for Orecchio from the encrypted communications systems he had put in place during the Gulf War and the conflict in Somalia. Nevertheless, despite the revolutionary potential of telepathic e-mail, skeptics abounded. Clarence Madison, managing partner of New World Associates, was quoted as saying, "I know crap when I see it. This is crap." Ignoring such critics, Mr. Maldini was pressing ahead with his plans to commercialize Orecchio. He even was anticipating future features such as telepathic web browsers and word processors and the ability to receive e-mail telepathically as well as send it.
At the end of the Red Herring article the reporter recalled a moment when he asked Mr. Maldini how big the market for such a product might be: "Mr. Maldini falls silent. He stares vacantly for several moments out his office window and then says, 'I just sent you an email with my answer.' Upon returning to our office, we find the response waiting: 'It's going to be huge,' reads the email. 'Simply huge.'" Red Herring received numerous letters from readers admitting they had been fooled by the article.
Zebra Savings Account. (1999) The London Sunday Telegraph described an astonishing new savings account that guaranteed to pay the best rate available on the market at all times. The account was called a ZEBRA, short for Zero Energy Best Rate Account. It was being offered by the Hungarian bank Loof Lirpa, through its British subsidiary Lirpa UK. The bank was supposedly able to offer such a compelling rate because it used "a complicated mix of investment vehicles, including futures, options, swaps and pixies" (pixies, of course, are small, magical creatures, not investment vehicles). Thousands of people called the Sunday Telegraph seeking more information about this "trouble-free maximum-paying, no-risk investment."
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