It shouldn’t be legal. To have so much fun.
OK, so today is April 2nd and that means a deconstruction of the April Fool’s Day hoax on this blog, and as it happens, the blogs of 22 others.
I had one big problem in doing an April Fool’s joke, of course, that I discussed in the set-up for the posting: If people are looking at this site to see what stunt I will pull, based on my past April Fool’s Day conduct, how will I hoodwink anyone? Doesn’t a prank work best when it’s unexpected? Answer: Divert the readers to let the hoax play out elsewhere, and make sure the story is plausible.
The premise was simple. The New York Times got pranked a couple of times last year. And loads of people chuckled at the “Paper of Record” for being sloppy. So this time, I figured, let’s go after the chucklers; we’ll try to get those who most like to see others get got. We’ll just claim another Times fail, certainly plausible given the past, and see who chases the bait. It would be a prank about a prank.
And with that, a wild goose chase was born with one blog after another ostensibly providing the magic link to where readers could get their laugh at the expense of the Times. No one, of course, actually had the goods since there were no goods to be had. In all there were 15 bloggers feeding readers into a circle that contained eight blogs. All chasing a phantom punking.
I figured most people would realize they’d been hustled after three or four links because at that point plausibility has been substantially diminished. So the best way to prolong the ruse was to keep actual facts to a minimum, because actual facts could not only be cross-checked with a Google search, but worse, could conflict with the “facts” in the next blog. So I asked my co-conspirators to use very few facts, much to the dismay of some very creative writers with implausible concepts — just to give a little bait to keep people hunting.
And it only took a couple hundred emails to get this going. Some bloggers, of course, were too cowardly professional to play along and declined. I can now taunt them forever for having missed a good time. In private. Unless they tick me off. I’ve got a blog, you know, and I know how to use it.
The execution was choppy, but this was the plan: Everyone would post at 7 am sharp, New York time. And most did. We were either awake and at our keyboards, or had set up urls in advance along with an auto-post. This was critical in order to create a full circle.
But a couple of Texans, who shall remain nameless, messed up the time zone differences when they set their blogs to auto-post. And one blogger that was part of the planned nine-blog circle not only messed up his timing, but also mistakenly posted backwards to the blog leading into him. That meant a dead end. He was either playing an April Fool’s joke on me, or this was the clearest case of prankster malpractice the internet had ever seen.
In addition to that dead end, there were also blown urls that had been created in advance. And so, April Fool’s Day morning, there was a dizzying deluge of email with bloggers editing links to make it all work, as some folks went off to do that thing they call “work.” One blogger actually edited his outbound url using an iPhone while standing outside a courthouse, to bypass the dead end blogger and close the circle to eight.
All told, we had 23 blogs in on the game, which included law, medicine, gaming, and politics, as well as personal/quirky blogs. I had hoped to find a tech blog to add in, but never made a connection with anyone. And it would have been great to have had the Fail Blog involved — just think of all those readers that like to laugh at others chasing a phantom fail.
These were the eight inside the circle:
And these were the 15 that fed readers via daisy chains into the vortex at various points, without whom this stunt wouldn’t have been nearly as successful:
Grunt Doc –> Dr. Wes
Kill Ten Rats –> Frank
ABA Journal –> Simple Justice
Above the Law –> Popehat
Wendy & Jason –> Turkewitz
Windy Pundit –> Turkewitz
I hope I didn’t miss anyone, but we had late additions and a couple of late deletions and my head just about spun off its moorings.
Was it a success? You betcha, as we had many thousands of people chasing the phantom, just itching to see the Times get taken. How many were actually taken depends on your definition of gotcha, but I think anyone that clicked more than three links probably qualifies. Many, I assume, figured out early it was a prank but kept clicking out of amusement to see if there was treasure at the end of the rainbow, only to find the never-ending rainbow.
It’s worth noting that one media outlet was duped (or were they?) though that wasn’t the goal: The Village Voice. They did a round-up of April Fool’s media stories, debunking jokes and letting their readers know which ones were real or not (Did the Huffington Post Steal Their April Fool’s Day Joke? Plus More Media Gags!) Despite specifically looking to critique jokes and pranks, they got caught (?) by Scott Greenfield:
Today, almost every media operation in the world has already attempted or will soon attempt to make a joke at the expense of their readers, viewers, visitors, or customers. Most will actually fool very few, while even less will be funny…
Not a Joke: The New York Times got fooled by an April Fool’s Day story, just like last year. This one’s really good.
The Wall Street Journal wasn’t so hot on fact-checking either, when doing a story about this year’s April Fool’s Day hoaxes. They quoted and linked to last year’s punking of the Times to make fun of it:
Other Than That, the Story Was Accurate
“Note: an earlier version of this column had an item about a blog post by a personal-injury lawyer, Eric Turkewitz, announcing that he had been appointed the White House law blogger. Blogospheric chatter indicates a high likelihood that this post was an April Fool hoax. Mr. Turkewitz declined to give us a straight answer on this score, so, pending callback from the White House, we’ve taken the item down.”–New York Times website, April 1
When you check the date, fellas, you also have to remember the year. That sort of reminds me of commenters that make fun of spelling mistakes, while making their own.
And here’s an interesting bit about the visitors yesterday from the data I looked at: The lawfirm with the most people to visit was….wait for it….the Department of Justice. I know I speak for many in saying we sleep better knowing our tax dollars are well spent. And I would also like to welcome my visitors from the Supreme Court, Senate and White House.
The comments at many blogs were fun, as were the emails, and many happily conceded they’d been had. But the award for best comments goes to….Popehat. Really. Especially “JB” and “Scott Jacobs.” Instant classics.
Final note: As I type, the economy still stinks and we’re engaged in 2.5 wars. Those who read blogs such as this probably know more than their fair share of people suffering hardship. There is an earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in Japan. So it’s probably healthy to take a moment out of the day to laugh at yourself and count your blessings. And on behalf of my co-conspirators, we were happy to help you get to that point.
Same time next year?