Sometime early in the boot-up of the blogosphere, April Fools became an odd tradition. People would put up stories that were intended to fool readers into believe something that wasn't true. I did it once or twice myself, but came to believe it was a bad idea. Instead I celebrated the birth of my blog on that day. It gave me an excuse to not participate.
Here's how I see it. One of two things happens:
1. Your prank is obvious, no one is fooled. Or
2. You pull it off. People are fooled into believing you.
You lose in either case. In #1 obviously you look bad. And in #2, you convince people you most want to trust you, to not trust you. It's like deliberate failure, on your mission. Analogously, it would be like a bus driver deliberately taking you somewhere that isn't on his route. Or a street cleaner dumping garbage on the street. Or a teacher telling you something he or she knows is false. It's not just bad, it's very bad. It undermines what you do.
This came up today when a blogger who I've followed on Twitter for a long time posted an item saying that Twitter had added the ability to edit a tweet. It looked like he was reporting a news event that's very significant. And since he covers Twitter itself, he's exactly the kind of guy I'd hope would break this big story.
All kinds of thoughts ran through my head after I RTd it. Would the press credit him with the discovery? So often they don't recognize news until a big publication reports it. This guy is an individual blogger, but one who I respect. I hoped that he would get credit.
A couple of hours later, when I had a moment I looked around to see if anyone else was reporting it. I looked for the command to edit a tweet. Didn't find it. I guessed that they hadn't turned the feature on for me yet. This makes new Twitter features particularly confusing to report. You often have to try to interpret other people's view of the feature, if you weren't randomly chosen as one of the first to get the feature.
I then responded to his tweet, asking where the feature was. I saw that others had responded the same. Everyone who responded took his tweet at face value. Wanted to know more about it. One person commented that Tweetbot would have to add the feature.
I then checked my DMs. There was a message there from him saying it was a joke, and he was sorry for the misunderstanding.
This happens too often. I wish people would never do this.
By the way, apparently he deleted the original message, so I can't point to it.
Dave Winer is a software developer and editor of the Scripting News weblog. He pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School and NYU, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in New York City.