Tuesday, April 1, 2008
The April Fool's Day Joke That Almost Was...
In 1997, Erik Heels and I created a fake law firm website (we were in the business of building law firm websites at the time). The firm we picked was that of Russell and Tate, the two characters played by Tracy Morgan and Tim Meadows of SNL in a few fake-commercials aired in ’96 and ’97. We thought the site was funny, it made the rounds among SNL fans, and that was that.
A couple years later, we revived Russell & Tate when we broke the staggering news that Visa bought the Internet and it was revealed that the multi-faceted firm of Russell & Tate was representing Visa in the transaction. Why Visa? Because, among other things, it wasn’t a publicly-traded company, so there’d be no claims of stock fraud if things got out of hand. We actually distributed the fake press release on InternetWire.com, chosen because its TOS didn’t prohibit the distribution of fake news. Our fake press release was the most viewed press release on InternetWire.com in 1999, possibly saying more about InternetWire.com than our sense of humor. But I digress.
It was the following year that things got… well, interesting. We had registered laywers.com, a misspelling of the popular lawyers.com site. We built a site that was a near replica of the “real” site, with one important difference: no matter what specialty you searched for, no matter what geography you included, laywers.com produced just one result. You guessed it: that of Russell & Tate. Needless to say, the good people at Martindale-Hubbell (owners and operators of lawyers.com) were not amused (though many others were, as you might imagine).
Fast forward a few months. News broke of the settlement between Microsoft and the Department of Justice. An intrepid reporter from Yahoo! Finance was eager to get the break on the story, and line up someone for an on-air commentary regarding the settlement. Off she went to laywers.com, searched for anti-trust lawyers in San Francisco, and bingo! These Russell and Tate guys must be who the firm to contact. (Shocking that there’d be just one anti-trust firm in all of San Francisco, dontchathink?)
She sent an e-mail to the addresses (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) listed on the firm’s “Contact us” page, and it immediately showed up in my inbox. Could we be on air later that morning to discuss the big break in the case?
If only I had known how to contact Tracy Morgan, something tells me he would have been up to the challenge… Sadly, I had to fess up to the embarrassed reporter that the site was fake, the law firm didn’t exist, and no, we couldn’t be on camera in an hour to discuss the anti-trust settlement.
(Bizarre postscript? Martindale-Hubbell, to whom we transferred ownership of laywers.com, no longer owns laywers.com. Sheesh.)