Posted 25/05/2000 4:38pm by Kieren McCarthy
BBC, Slashdot mashed by spud pranksters
Everyone is ultimately gullible - it's just the degree of detail that separates us. However, when a bunch of pranksters claimed to be running a Web server from a dozen potatoes, you'd think the alarm bells would start ringing.
It may be unsurprising that Slashdot bought the bait and ran its Potato-powered Web server story. It is inevitable that Ananova should follow suit with the grammatically faulty Potatoes powers Web site. But it comes as a great surprise here at Vulture Central to see the BBC fall under the spud spell as well.
Mind you, it did have all the hallmarks for a wacky, but true, story.
Factually written, detailed techie copy on how the system was set up to deal with the very small current produced by electrode-prodded potatoes. It is also twinged the schoolboy memory as journalists remembered the electricity-from-a-lemon basic physics lesson.
Slashdot is a fairly hands-off setup and it just ran with a link to the pranksters' site. Ananova, on the other hand, went to the trouble of contacting the people behind it and ended up looking even more foolish by including a quote from protagonist Steve Harris. "We considered using hamster wheels but we think that would probably be cruel to hamsters. They are probably unreliable too - you would need loads of hamsters to make sure you always had power." ("I was only joking about the hamsters, guys!" Steve has written on the spud server website.)
But the best was from the BBC which gave the story serious credence and went to the trouble of researching and explaining how it would work chemically.
Sadly you can no longer read it as Auntie took it down as soon as it realised - two days later. But if you want to see the "Removed" signs click here.
The thing is, while you can actually get a very small amount of electricity from a potato, the claim that twelve potatoes could run a Web server for several days is ludicrous. One reader's estimate was maybe a few seconds - and that's with a lot more than a dozen potatoes.
Well, shortly after we posted this story, Ananova pulled its spud cock-up.
Readers gladly told us of others that had been duped - although we'll have to take their word for it on some of them.
USA Today ran it apparently though we can't find it now.
Blue's News linked to the Slashdot article as Link of the Day. But of course that's gone too.
ZDNet in Germany definitely went for it - although we can't understand a word of it. If you speak German, look here.Similarly, the German site www.linux.de linked to the ZDNet article.
What does this tell us about the wired world? That the more people crave for attention, the more disconnected their brains become. That the great thing about the Internet is you can rewrite history when you realise how stupid you've been (The Reg is kinda guilty of this too, as one reader reminded us by emailing the URLs for before and after screen grabs where we made an April Fool's blunder - for all of 15 minutes and on March 31). That people with a sense of humour will always have the last laugh.
Regarding The Reg's own little... ahem... mistake, Tony Smith, writes: "the change was made within 15 mins, as I went straight back and took a look at the page code, spotting the hints. And I even got an email from the guy doing the fool (which, you'll note, was posted on 31 March, and therefore not technically an April Fool's Gag) commending me on my insight! If only he knew...
Rewriting history - damn right - and doing so before it even became history." ®
If you know of any other duped sites, please let us know.