LAST CALL: Laughter flows over Red Herring's 'Waternet' gagarticle

The so-called 'new economy' tech business magazines may have

suffered their share of fallout from Nasdaq's slide, but at least they

can still have a laugh. Red Herring managed to elicit more than a few

chuckles and score some choice ink for itself this month with its annual

April Fools story.

An article appeared in the Herring's April 2 issue about a Dutch

start-up that offers technology to transmit Web traffic through - what

else? - municipal waterworks. 'Just connect to your bathroom faucet and

you get a broadband connection!' barked the deranged Dutchmen. In

addition to the preposterous premise, the story about 'WaterNet'

included several clues that it was indeed the mag's annual gag. For

example, a 'water policy analyst' named Truman Schuman was quoted, and

founder Dennis de Boer was said to have developed the technology through

something called the Dutch Retrograde Internet Project, or DRIP.

However, more than a few readers didn't catch the joke (and that, we

admit, includes PRWeek's editor-in-chief). Not only did the pseudo

WaterNet Web site receive more than 50,000 page views, letters from

interested investors poured in (sorry), according to editor-in-chief

Jason Pontin.

The head of a national trade association for advertisers even wrote to

invite WaterNet's CEO to speak at an executive conference.

Armed with the giggle-worthy evidence of gullibility, PR firm Plesser

Associates pitched a story on the gag's success to business media using

a faux press release followed by a real backgrounder explaining the

history and the philosophy of April Fools articles in the Herring.

Resulting coverage included a piece on the Knight-Ridder wire, and the San Jose Mercury News. Seems everyone's in the mood

for a laugh these days.

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