Saturday, 3 March 2007

The most ridiculous Internet claims ever

I've been considering what were the most ridiculous claims ever made about the Internet, and in doing so I have considered 3 options:
  1. Bill Gates saying that the Microsoft Network will overtake the Internet
  2. Al Gore invented the Internet
  3. BT trying to claim that they had patented the hyperlink
As I've researched into these to find sources, I've learnt a lot I didn't know, and much that shows the above in a very different light.

Firstly, let's take the claims from Bill Gates.

Despite many different Google searches and looking up Gates' entry on wikiquote (which I didn't even know existed - good reference point for future), I can't find any reliable source for what he actually said. I can't be dreaming things though, as the Marketing 2.0 blog suggests that the statement might have been:
"At the announcement for its new BBS, Microsoft Network (MSN) Bill Gates declared about the Internet something as 'it's just a fad'."
Which does sound familiar. However, due to the lack of sources I'm dubious about making this the most ridiculous Internet claim I've ever heard (I would have done otherwise) - can anyone help with some more reliable sources?

The research though did identify a number of other spectactularly stupid things that Gates has said (from wikiquote), of which my favourites are:
  • "The next generation of interesting software will be done on the Macintosh, not the IBM PC" (1984)
  • "There are no significant bugs in our released software that any significant number of users want fixed" (1995)
  • "Spam will be a thing of the past in two years' time" (2004)
The last one is remarkable in its naivety (or is it arrogance?), and refers to the much-touted idea that people would pay to send e-mail in a similar way that a postage stamp paid for snail mail to be delivered. The only way this would have worked would have been through a complete re-architecture of SMTP and the way e-mail works on the Internet - not likely to happen.

In fact, that's now a candidate in itself for the most ridiculous Internet claim - and I'd forgotten all about it until a friend mentioned it to me yesterday.

Al Gore never said he invented the Internet

I was surprised to learn this, in that it's actually an urban myth and a quote deliberately taken out of context.

The Oscar winning former vice president actually said (as is revealed at
"During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system."
As Snopes says, the wording is clumsy and self-serving (along with asking for trouble and guaranteed to follow him around for the rest of his life), but it definitely shows that it was a myth that he said he invented the Internet. This is backed up by other online sources.

This leaves us with only Gates' second quote about spam dying within 2 years of 2004
and BT as candidates.

BT patented the hyperlink

This one still shocks you to think about it today - truly a ridiculous claim.

In 2002, BT tried to sue Prodigy Communications over a patent that they claimed covered the hyperlink. The grandiose (i.e. stupid) idea they had was that all ISPs would then have to pay BT a license fee for any use of the hyperlink.

ZDNet reminds us of the claims in some more detail, along with the ruling of US District Court Judge Colleen McMahon:

The hyperlink patent -- properly known as the Sargent patent -- describes a system in which multiple users, located at remote terminals, can access data stored at a central computer. BT had argued that the Internet infringes the Sargent patent, and that Prodigy facilitates infringement by its subscribers by providing them with access to the Internet.

But Judge McMahon found three problems with BT's arguments. First, she said, the Internet has no "central computer" as described in the Sargent patent. Therefore, she said, because the Internet itself does not infringe the Sargent patent, "Prodigy cannot be liable for contributory infringement or active inducement for providing its users with access to the Internet."

Despite statements about reviewing the ruling and looking to appeal, unsusprisingly BT dropped this one and went to lick their appalling PR wounds.

The winner is ...

Had I been able to reliably source Gates' prophecy that the Microsoft Network would overtake the Internet that would have won hands down.

However, while placing BT's ludicrous patent hyperlink claim in a close second place, the award for the most ridiculous Internet claim ever must go to the one made 3 years ago by Bill Gates that spam would be a thing of the past by 2006.

What does he win? Well, it could only be a clue stick couldn't it?