UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Who’s The Fool Now?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 Apr 2013

April fool, Guardian, 1 April 1996On 1 April 1996 I ran a workshop session on HTML authoring at a UCISA User Service conference held at Aberdeen University.

I remember buying the Guardian on the opening day of the conference and noticed the headline on the front cover: “Royal web war feared as Queen sets up site in cyberspace“. I decided to use this as an example of how the Web had gone beyond its roots in academia and was not clearly mainstream.

However I quickly discovered that I’d been taken in by an April Fool joke. If I’d have read beyond the plausible-sounding opening paragraphs I might have realised it was a joke:

However, friends of Princess Diana are setting up a web site in what looks like an effort to start a “web war”. Jo-Jo Williams, self-styled “Prince of the Net Surfers,” said: “Princess Di will be queen in our cyberspace and Charles will feel as though he has fallen into a black hole.”

A battle taking place between Princess Diane and Prince Charles – how preposterous!

In reality according to the British Monarchy’s Web site ” The Queen launched the British Monarchy’s official website in 1997. In 2007 the official British Monarchy YouTube channel was unveiled, swiftly followed by a Royal Twitter site (2009), Flickr page (2010) and Facebook page (also 2010)“. However it was in November 1995 when Diana admitted adultery in TV interview so the speculation that we would see a domestic squabble taking place in cyberspace was perhaps plausible.

In a recent paper on “What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future” I described a methodology for helping to predict technology trends. I might have included use of jokes which highlighted technological advances which were felt to be absurd to a mainstream audience. Today, for example, we have seen an advertisement for a new product called Guardian Goggles:

But today, ending months of speculation and rumour, this newspaper announces a groundbreaking development in the modern history of the media: a pair of web-connected “augmented reality” spectacles that will beam its journalism directly into the wearer’s visual field, enabling users to see the world through the Guardian’s eyes at all times.

guardian front cover on 1 April 2013However today my Twitter stream gives me a view of the UK’s political environment through the filter of my Twitter stream, including various stories featured on the Guardian’s front cover.

Meanwhile this morning I came across a tweet from the Times Higher Education about a story which again may come true in the near future:

Major innovation: Social media (Twitter, Facebook) to be included in World University Rankings:

The article began by sounding very plausible:

Data from social media, including You Tube viewing figures, Twitter follower counts and accumulated “likes” on Facebook will be developed into a new reputational indicator for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, it was confirmed today.

The magazine said the move is designed to reflect the growing influence the internet has on a university’s reputational standing, and to recognize the key role social networking has in reflecting student opinion and influencing their study choices.

Phil S Batty, editor of Times Higher Education’s rankings, said: “We are living in a fast-moving information age, when a university’s reputational standing around the world is heavily influenced by its presence and its activities on the internet. It is time that global rankings reflected this reality. Social media is one of the most effective ways of capturing student views on institutions, and measuring an institution’s popularity.”

But needed to signal that it was an April Fool joke in a very clumsy fashion, citing Itzah Jaok:

Ivor Binhad, head of thinking, search engine optimisation and office services at the web marketing consultancy Itzah Jaok, based in Dalston, London, said: “Universities are just so 12th century, man, with their ivory towers and all those dusty books and old people sitting around. It is time for them to saddle up and straddle the information bridle path, whatever brand hurdles they may encounter on the way. I confidently predict that the Internet’s time has come, so bring your e-stirrups.

The Queen’s Web site was set up a year after the Guardian’s April Fool story appeared on the font cover. I wonder how long it will take before the World University Rankings includes online ranking scores?


One Response to “Who’s The Fool Now?”

  1. Tony finch said

    Closest I have seen is

    It’s easy to imagine this becoming part of an outreach or impact ranking…

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