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Status: Hoax
image The Butter Trough, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a great concept for a restaurant. First of all, the menu is simple. They only serve bread, butter, and sweet tea. But best of all, it's all free! It's the world's first advertiser-supported restaurant:
The Butter Trough is the world's FIRST 100% advertisement supported restaraunt. Come down to our Atlanta Facility to enjoy food and fun with friends and family all for free. We are able to bring this great value to YOU, the consumer, through the use of directed advertisements from corporate sponsors. This means that while you are enjoying your bread, butter, and tea you will softly hear advertisements playing in the background via the tabletop speakers, multipatron television sets, and the butter trough multimedia displays scattered throughout the establishment.
Is this place real? I don't think so. Clues that it's fake include the google ads on the website (though this would make sense given that the restaurant is advertiser supported), and the obligatory CafePress t-shirts they're selling. But the biggest clue is the address: 6346 Lynch Avenue, Atlanta GA. There doesn't appear to be such a place. At least, nothing comes up on Google Maps when I type in that address.

I'm guessing that the Butter Trough site was created by Joseph Donaldson, because a) Joseph Donaldson's homepage is hosted on the same server as The Butter Trough site and b) he links to the Butter Trough. A few other sites (all of which link to the Butter Trough as well) hosted on that server include: Circus of the Damned, and the Just Ducky Guild. (Thanks to Doug Nelson for the link)
Categories: Advertising, Food, Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 31, 2006
Comments (10)
Status: Probably a hoax
image The latest mystery to capture the short attention span of the internet is ThatGirlEmily. It's a blog, supposedly written by "Emily" who during the past two weeks has discovered that her husband "Steven" is cheating on her. Coincidentally she started her blog just before all these interesting things in her life began occuring. Yesterday she decided to get even with Steven by placing a large billboard near where he works with this message on it:
Hi Steven,
Do I have your attention now? I know all about her, you dirty, sneaky, immoral, unfaithful, poorly-endowed slimeball. Everything's caught on tape,
Your (soon-to-be-ex) Wife, Emily
p.s. I paid for this billboard from OUR joint bank account.
Emily's blog and billboard, as almost everyone who has posted about it agrees, just screams viral marketing. AtleastIhavechicken.com has summarized some of the reasons why it's probably a viral marketing campaign:
1) Emily has gone to some effort to conceal her identity;
2) Her blog is too well written (grammatically speaking) and the story unfolds a little too neatly to be real;
3) Since she started her blog, someone using the username ThatGirlEmily has been comment spamming numerous message boards. See here, and here, and here.
4) In addition to the billboard in New York (which seems to be real), an identical billboard has also been spotted in LA. The dual billboards, in my opinion, is the real clincher, because why would Emily, if she were real, pay for billboards in different cities?

I don't know who's the mastermind behind ThatGirlEmily, but here are the leading theories:

1) It's a viral created by an outdoor billboard company, to demonstrate the effectiveness of billboard advertising. (kind of like the Outhouse Springs campaign.)
2) Or it's a viral for a Court TV show. Possibly Parco P.I. (this is Gawker's favorite theory.)

Emily vows 14 days of vengeance. So I'm sure we'll eventually know the real story behind this.
Categories: Sex/Romance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 18, 2006
Comments (24)
Status: Fictional
image Unflinching Triumph, a recently released movie, explores the little-known subculture of Professional Staredown contests (aka Staring Contests). You can view the movie in its entirety online (free and legal!), or view the trailer at YouTube.

If you believe the movie, there really is such a thing as professional staredown contests. This illusion is strengthened by the website of the National Association of Staredown Professionals (NASP) and the website of Staredown Champion Tony Patterson. However, I'm pretty sure that the movie is a mockumentary, and that the NASP and Tony Patterson sites are part of the joke.

But I started wondering if perhaps the movie was based on a germ of truth. Is there some kind of subculture of staring enthusiasts? After all if cup stacking or chess boxing can be sports, why not staring? So I checked on Lexis Nexis to see if there was any mention of Staring as a professional sport in any paper for the past five years. But there doesn't seem to be. Wikipedia doesn't make note of any such thing either, though it does mention that some people like to challenge their pets to staring contests.
Categories: Entertainment, Sports, Websites
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 16, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Viral Marketing Campaign
image I've received a few emails asking me for info about noscruf.org. It appears, on the surface, to be a site created by the NO SCRUF organization, which stands for "National Organization of Social Crusaders Repulsed by Unshaven Faces." It's supposedly a growing coalition of women who have vowed not to shave until men start shaving. Their website, which features lots of photos of hirsute models (obviously photoshopped, or using glue-on hair), proclaims: "Let's end the trend of prickly, scratchy, stubbly faces. We're not going to shave until men do." Last week a No Scruf protest rally was also held in New York's Herald Square featuring TV stars Kelly Monaco and Brooke Burke.

It's pretty easy to figure out that this isn't a real grassroots movement of stubble-hating women. It's a viral marketing campaign dreamed up by Gillette. I figured this out by doing a quick search for domain name info about noscruf.org. Turns out the site's name was registered by Procter & Gamble and the site itself is hosted on servers owned by Gillette. They didn't even try to hide this information.

As for No Scruf's message, I hate shaving, so despite Gillette's efforts to convince me otherwise, I'm keeping my stubble.
Categories: Advertising, Body Manipulation, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 14, 2006
Comments (19)
Status: Real
Here's another site to add to my ongoing list of unfortunate URLsOMFG.com. The site explains that OMFG stands for 'Official Meeting Facilities Guide.' They claim to be "the industry’s leading meeting planning print directory for the most active meeting professionals." They seem to have no clue that OMFG is more commonly used as an acronym for a different phrase ('Oh My F***ing God'). But having this URL probably generates a fair amount of traffic for them, so maybe it was an intentional choice. Plus, it's an easy URL to remember. (Thanks to Kathy for the link.)
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 06, 2006
Comments (8)
Status: Hoax
image Yahoo News! reports on a hoax website, http://www.instoresnow.nl, created by a Dutch design student, Raoul Balai. It pretends to be an ad agency that offers advertising space on the bodies of prostitutes. It also offers to place ads on zoo animals. Big Gary points out that this is basically a variation on the old 'advertise on my forehead... or other body part' stunt. (Imagine brothel patrons or zoo goers having to wear body-ad blockers.) Yahoo News! reports:
"I was getting sick and tired of advertising everywhere," Balai told reporters. "But I don't want to preach, and I thought satire would work better." Far from taking his ideas as a joke, an Amsterdam zoo had its lawyer threaten Balai with a defamation suit after his website depicted fish from the zoo bearing the brand name of a frozen fish company. Prospective customers phoning his fake agency are kept on hold and bombarded with sales pitches until they give up.
I've been trying to check out Balai's site, but it won't load. The increased traffic from being mentioned on Yahoo News! must be the reason.
Categories: Advertising, Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 05, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Social Experiment
image A couple of people have asked me if I know anything about eon8.com, a mysterious website that features a clock counting down to July 1 (tomorrow). Unfortunately I don't know anything about it. Though I guess we'll all find out what it is tomorrow, unless we just get another cryptic clue once the clock reaches 0.

According to Wikipedia, the leading theories are that it's a) an alternate reality game, b) some kind of distribution system for computer viruses (unlikely, I think), or c) a viral marketing scheme (perhaps a viral created by EON Productions to promote their next film, Casino Royale).

I can't think of anything else 'eon 8' would refer to. The poet WB Yeats developed an elaborate system of occult theory which held that history progresses through various spiritual eons each of which has their own special character. But I'm highly doubtful that the eon8 website is a reference to Yeatsian theosophy.

The domain registration info is also a dead end. It was registered via Domains by Proxy back in December 2005.

My hunch is that it probably will turn out to be option c: a viral marketing scheme.

Update: The eon8 site is now loading very slowly, if at all.

Update 2: You can check out an investigation of eon8 at http://eon8theinvestigation.ytmnd.com/.

Update 3: With the countdown completed, the secret behind eon8 has been revealed. It was a social experiment created by a 23-year-old web designer named Mike from Florida. He wanted to find out "the reactions of the internet public to lack of information." He discovered that a lot of people thought it might be a terrorist site (because of the ominous map it displayed with red dots over major population centers). Others, as I noted above, speculated it might be some kind of viral marketing scheme. Mike says that he's disappointed so many people assumed the site had evil intentions, but that reaction doesn't seem very illogical to me. After all, if you encounter someone that is obviously hiding something, why would you assume their intentions are benign? Also, looking at it from the perspective of social psychology, the site violated the norm of openness that exists on the internet. This would explain why it generated a hostile reaction from some. Groups always try to punish those who violate their norms.
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 30, 2006
Comments (13)
Status: Parody
imageOperationEMU.com offers up "Statements, theories and artifacts related to the alleged 1974 NASA experiment during which an entire Hollywood film crew, contracted by the government, disappeared in a remote section of Nevada." This seems to be the jist of what the site alleges happened: The Hollywood film crew was there to help stage a training exercise for the NASA-led Operation EMU (which stands for Operation Experimental Mitigated Universe). Operation EMU itself was some kind of NASA project to prepare for alien contact. And somehow a group of Meemaw Indians performing a solstice ritual were involved in this.

Sound a little bizarre? I think that's the intention. The site was created by B. Brandon Barker to promote his novel, for which he's shopping for a publisher. (The article about him in the Baltimore Sun should definitely help his chances with that.) Barker says that he designed his novel to be a parody of "pretentious sci-fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the cult of alien-life true believers" (Hey, I like 2001: A Space Odyssey!). The strange thing is that although Barker's plot is pure fiction, some people now believe elements of it to be real. At least, according to the Baltimore Sun:
Some apparently think Operation EMU is for real. "It seems only logical that there are cover ups of major proportions that aren't discovered," forum member Robyn Zimmerman of Michigan writes in response to an e-mail query. Forum member John Nesbit, a 52-year-old crawfish farmer in Martinsville, La., used to be an Air Force mechanic and was stationed at Nellis in the early 1970s. He claims to have first-hand knowledge of Operation EMU. "I get less dubious the older I get," says Nesbit. "I did know about Operation EMU, but it was a NASA training thing. That's what we were told. Only much later did it come out that it was broader than that, that they were training the military to fight aliens. ... The film crew thing, that's documented."
Shades of Alternative Three there. If you create a hoax about a government cover-up, some people will inevitably insist that revealing it as a hoax is part of the cover-up.
Categories: Conspiracy Theories, Extraterrestrial Life, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 22, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: Hoax (art project)
image Meet Genpets, the cute, cuddly (kind of ugly) pets of the future, that come shrinkwrapped in plastic:
Genpets are living, breathing mammals. Bio-Genica is a Bioengineering Company that has combined, and modified existing DNA to create the Genpets lineup. Genpets are flesh and blood just like any other animal... Genpets are designed to be sold on retail store shelves, not traditional pet stores. This is why they are packaged in plastic.
It should be pretty obvious that Genpets aren't real, though the Genpets site is well designed. The Genpets site is the creation of artist Adam Brandejs. Apparently he's actually been hanging these things in store windows. And the real-life versions of them look like they're alive, thanks to some robotics and circuitry. He writes:
Genpets seems to create a reaction wherever they go. While in the store window of Iodine Toronto, the shop owner began sleeping in the store as many nights, people would bang at the windows furiously. Some in protest of the small Bio-genetically engineered creatures trapped in plastic, some wanting to wake them up or buy them. Hordes of teens wanting a bioengineered pet met confused, baffled, or even shocked looks from parents. For an upcoming generation, through our own marketing techniques, life and the idea of life are quickly becoming viewed as disposable commodities. It’s easier to dismiss Genpets as a hoax or exaggeration when you’re not faced with a wall of them. The experience of a grainy photo is different than standing face to face with a breathing, sleeping Genpet.
(Thanks to Torbjørn Solstad for the link)
Categories: Animals, Technology, Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 14, 2006
Comments (59)
Status: Hoax
image Here's a hoax that I missed while away in Scotland. Geoff (who withheld his last name) claimed to be a twenty-five-year-old virgin. He launched a website (avirginsplea.com) on May 1, declaring that if his site received five million hits by the end of the month, a girl he knew had promised to sleep with him. Soon blogs were linking to his site to help him out, and the media (unable, as always, to resist an unusual story about sex) deluged him with requests for interviews. Predictably, it all turned out to be a hoax. Geoff, although a real person, was not a virgin, as reporters found out who tracked down a former girlfriend of his. In addition, Geoff hadn't created the site. He was merely the front man for it. The creator of the site was web designer Matthew Gamble who had intended it, so he later claimed, to be an experiment in viral marketing.

I learned about this hoax yesterday when I got a call from MTV Canada, who, after initially having been taken in by the hoax, were now interviewing Gamble on air. They telephoned me to get my opinion as a 'hoax expert'. Specifically, they were very curious about whether Gamble's hoax warranted inclusion in the Museum of Hoaxes. I assured them that it did, which seemed to make them happy. I didn't add that my standards for what warrants inclusion on the site are pretty low. As long as something sounds kind of hoaxy, I'll post about it on my blog. (The standards for what makes it into the Gallery sections of the site are much higher.)

I should also note that avirginsplea.com was a spoof of helpwinmybet.com, a site launched in March by a guy claiming that his girlfriend had agreed to a threesome if his site received two million hits. To my knowledge helpwinmybet.com hasn't been exposed as a hoax, per se, but I'm guessing that it's just a scheme to generate revenue from ads for dating sites.
Categories: Sex/Romance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri May 26, 2006
Comments (8)
Status: Typosquatter
My wife just discovered this. If you misspell museumofhoaxes.com by switching he 'e' and the 'u' in museum (a very easy mistake to make), you'll arrive at The Musuem of Hoaxes, which contains links to info about museums. It's obviously a site created by a spammer hoping to profit off of people who are trying to get to the Museum of Hoaxes, but who aren't great spellers. I probably shouldn't link to this alternative version of the Museum (I'm only sending more traffic to the spammer), but I'm kind of flattered that someone thought it was worth their time to create this. According to Larry Adams, author of Fraud In Other Words, this kind of practice (registering misspelled domain names) is called typosquatting:

Typosquatting is the intentional use of misspelled domain names and meta tags to misdirect Internet traffic or revenue from one Web site to another. It is based on the probability that a certain number of Internet users will mistype the URL or name of a Web site. Typically, a typosquatter registers several possible input errors for a Web site of a famous company, brand name or celebrity known for its high traffic. The typosquatter monitors the bogus sites to see how many clicks a day each of their "typo" domain names receives, and uses the information to sell advertising for the sites that receive a high volume of accidental traffic. Advertising revenue might come from selling ads to the original site's competitors or by providing redirect pages to gambling and porn sites.
Categories: Con Artists, Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 17, 2006
Comments (13)
Status: follow-up info about a hoax
image A month ago I posted about Plastic Assets, a faux credit card company offering free breast implants as a sign-up bonus. I noted that the site was an entrant in the Contagious Festival, a contest to create a high-traffic parody site. Now Plastic Assets has officially won the contest, receiving five times more visitors than its closest competitor. And the media, typically late to the party, are announcing that the site has just been revealed to be a hoax. (Even though I know I wasn't the only site to point out that this was a hoax last month.)

According to the CanWest News Service article, Plastic Assets was designed by Shari Graydon, author of In Your Face: The Culture of Beauty and You, and the site "attracted hundreds of female applicants and more than 130,000 visitors." Graydon concludes from this that "The degree to which our site was believed to be credible despite how over the top it was underlines the fact that people aren't bringing critical thinking skills to what they read on the Internet."

I agree that many people are too gullible about claims they encounter on the internet, but in this instance I'm skeptical about how many people really were fooled. I don't think there's any correlation between the number of visitors the site had, or even the number of applicants it received, and the amount of people who believed it to be real. I figure that most of its visitors recognized it as a joke, and probably filled out the application as a joke also.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Business/Finance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 06, 2006
Comments (4)
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