Pranks a Lot: Web Takes Jokes Global


Jan. 5, 2007— -- Have you heard the one about the feather and the toothpaste? What about Saran-Wrapping the toilet seat? Or how about short-sheeting a bed?

Traditionally, the practical joke has been a rite of passage for high school seniors and college students with too much time on their hands.

Who doesn't have a friend of a friend who's cousin's half-sister's boyfriend pulled off a really great prank? But how many of us have actually been involved in one?

As it turns out, high schoolers and college students aren't the only ones who enjoy the secrecy, the intricate planning and the thrill of fleecing our families, friends and co-workers.

Millions of people, from 19-year-olds to 92-year-olds, tune in to television shows like the TV classic "Candid Camera" and MTV's updated celebrity version, "Punk'd," just to see strangers making fools of themselves.

Now, thanks to the Internet, Web sites such as YouTube and Flickr, homemade videos or photos of pranks can be made instantly available to a huge, international audience.

Scott Ableman, who works for a Washington D.C.-area Internet company, InPhonic, found out just how "viral" a good practical joke can be.

One ordinary Friday last month, Ableman and a dozen of his co-workers snuck out to the parking garage and covered another colleague's prized Jaguar in Post-it notes. Always parking his Jag in a faraway corner "so not to be hit or dinged," Walt, the owner of the Jaguar, was an obvious target.

"We work hard and play hard at InPhonic," said Ableman, in an interview with ABC News. "Practical jokes are kind of a tradition at our company. ... It had to be done."

Two hours and 14,000 magenta, lime-green, neon-yellow, purple and electric-blue Post-its later, not one inch of the car was left bare.

"It looked like a piñata when we were all done," said Ableman. With its pink wheels, yellow lights, purple hood, blue trunk and mismatched body panels, you'd think Ableman and his crew had had it all planned out.

"It wasn't a plan at all," said Ableman. "We just got a lot of different colored Post-it notes, and then one person decided to make some tires pink and other people copied that and then we decided to make the moon roof and body panels different colors. In the end, it looks like a pretty nice design."

So how did Walt, the owner of the Jaguar, react when he saw his adored auto covered in thousands of sticky pieces of paper? "He didn't think it was his own," said Ableman. "He said, 'Where did my car go?!'"

Fortunately, Walt was a good sport. He got such a kick out of it that "he decided his kids had to see it and peeled off only the Post-it notes on the windows and drove off," said Ableman.

Ableman and his cohorts decided to document the experience, taking pictures of the final product, and posting them on Flickr, a popular photo sharing Web site. "We originally hoped to take photos and put them on the Internet, because we thought that would be a fun way for [Walt] to discover it for the first time."

Although Walt never saw the photos of his car on the Internet, many bloggers and Internet junkies did. "The photos just took off," said Ableman. "The blogosphere has picked up on it and, as of today, according to Flickr, the photos have had more than 150,000 views. We've seen links to these photos on Web sites all over the country, [and in] Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, all over the world."

Ableman can hardly believe the overwhelming response these photos. "I work for an Internet company, but I've never experienced anything like this," he said. "E-mails flying constantly. It's quite a distraction actually."

But don't think Ableman's sudden online success has gone to his head. "A lot of people try to create something viral and you know it. You can smell it as soon as it happens," he explained. "And then, when you're not trying at all, something like this just blindsides you, and that's one reason the Internet is so wonderful. True democracy," said Ableman.

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