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from The Mercury News, April 1, 2002

In on the joke in Silicon Valley
COMPANIES PULL PRANKS TO CELEBRATE APRIL FOOL'S DAY
By Mary Anne Ostrom

People are out of work and profits are down, but Silicon Valley still can't resist a good April Fool's gag.

Here's a run-down of some of the more creative jokes pulled on unsuspecting Web surfers and other folk Monday:

Craigslist: The popular San Francisco-based online community listings board, which has operated ad-free since its mid-1990s inception, shocked at least a few loyalists when the home page announced the site would begin selling banner ads.

"Craigslist represents virgin territory for banner ad placement,' the site explained. Even a price list and "banner ad form" was included.

Not everyone got the spoof. One apparently upset user declared: "I guess it's just Internet evolution -- everyone sells out sometime!"

In fact, site founder Craig Newmark has been approached in recent years about running banner ads, but has insisted on remaining virtually ad-free. (He does charge employers to post jobs.)

Google: The Mountain View search engine's home page revealed "the secret technology" behind its ability to turn up relevant Web page links in seconds: the patented PigeonRank system. An accompanying photo of pigeons pecking at keyboards brought the point home.

Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both Stanford University graduates "reasoned that low-cost pigeon clusters (PCs) could be used to compute the relative value of Web pages faster than human editors or machine-based algorithms", the caption read. The pigeons also proved prodigious at fulfilling large pizza orders from engineers, the spoof continued.

After skipping last April Fool's (engineers were too busy to mark the date), "we had to make up this year," said Google spokeswoman Eileen Rodriguez.

CompassPoint: The Bay Area consultant to non-profits e-mailed a newsletter Monday announcing that former Enron Chairman Ken Lay had joined its board.

"With his business savvy and political connections this is a real win-win," Executive Director Jan Masaoka was quoted as saying in the newsletter. "Plus he's been able to help us get Andersen as our audit firm at an unbelievable price -- what a coup!"

Masaoka & Co. have sent spoof newsletters for four years in a row.

EBay: The world's largest online auctioneer added some "April Fool's" specials to its home page Monday, including a pitch to run eBay for a day. If users clicked on items in the Ayn Rand Shop or on an offer of fresh tripe, a Happy April Fool's Day notice appeared.

But featured items advertising "how to get more oxygen" and "lose 90 lbs. in 30 days" turned out to be genuine auctions.

RedHerring: A veteran April Fools spoofer, the magazine posted a lengthy feature on its Web site entitled "Failure, Inc." The subject is a down-on-his-luck entrepreneur named Louis Lack who will launch FailSafe eVentures, an incubator "to resuscitate misunderstood ideas."

In contrast, Sun Microsystems, once the kingpin of April Fool's gags, apparently took the year off from playing jokes on the company's top executives. Between Java One, an industry conference held last week, and "the end of the quarter we just didn't have time to do anything on par with the past," said spokeswoman Maria Squicciarini, "at least as far as we can tell."

Sun pranksters in previous years installed a giant arrow through Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy's office and took apart chief scientist Bill Joy's Porsche, reassembling it on an island.

But Netscape Communications didn't miss a chance this year. The Netscape-backed Open Directory Project took an April Fool's shot at rival Microsoft, creating a mock press release from Bill Gates' software company announcing the launch of the "Gates Open Directory," or GOD, which seeks "to simplify copyright on the Web by purchasing all copyrighted material."

Offering an explanation of why April 1 never passes unnoticed in Silicon Valley, Craigslist's Newmark said April Fool's gags gives smart-aleck engineers an excuse to be themselves.

But even corporate America gets in on the act.

In a USA Today gag ad, Burger King announced that it has changed its name to the ``Chicken King Corporation'' -- a bid to drum up publicity for a new chicken sandwich.