Hardware download satire backfires

Want to download some free hardware? Impossible you say? Well, a columnist at PC World magazine's Web site found out the hard way that some people don't see the humour in this playful prank.

Last month, Gil Bates, a PC World columnist, wrote a column about a brand-new system called Shardware (shared hardware). This revolutionary system was said to enable users to download the "Haze 56.6Kbps modem" or the "SeaQuest 2.1GB hard disk" over the Internet.

According to "Bates," who prefers not to give out his real name, 1,200 people tried to download the hard drive, and 1,600 tried to download the modem, during the first few days the piece appeared. What they got for their trouble was a message that told them they were too late, the beta period had run out for the product. What did Bates get? Lots of angry e-mail messages.

We asked Bates what was his motivation for this bit of satire. "My motivation? Malice! No, seriously, what motivated me? It was just a joke," Bates said. "I've done six or seven columns under the banner 'PC Warped.' The whole premise is poking fun at various Web conventions."

The problem was that some people didn't see the humour. "A surprising number of people didn't get it," said Bates. "The problem was because the links to the column were not labeled 'satire' or had little smiles. People don't necessarily register irony and humor on the Web." Bates said he responds quickly to the "negative" e-mail messages and explains that it was a joke. He makes no apology for the joke, but apologizes "for any inconvenience" that he may have caused. "My heart goes out to some people who were genuinely distressed."

But get this. Bates also claims to have received positive feedback, as well, including an e-mail message informing him that a modem had been successfully downloaded and was "working wonderfully."

Has Bates been deterred from doing other satires? "Everyone seems to want to download free stuff, so it occurred to me, why not hardware? I'm thinking of putting up a monitor available through download, to see just how far people are willing to go," Bates said.