Tuesday, April 1

Your tax dollars at work: Powerhouse Museum promotes Hotmail

Initially I assumed the Powerhouse Museum's plan to print out and archive hundreds of the 'best' emails from around Australia was just an April Fool's joke.

After all, it's never easy to sort the real news stories from the pranks on April 1st. Journalists have too little time between deadlines and too many pages to fill to check all of their facts, all the time. And we in the blogosphere, squeezing our blogging into thin slices of our day jobs and housekeeping, have even less motivation to think before we speak. Meanwhile, those of us with time for mischief, such as the most excellent Darren Rowse, keep coming up with plausible prank stories.

In the end, a lot of April Fools prank stories to go press online these days.

Sadly, the Email Australia campaign, announced by ninemsn, Microsoft and the publicly funded Powerhouse Museum, is not a prank. Even worse, it's a thinly-veiled marketing exercise for Hotmail, designed to temporarily inflate the user registration numbers of Microsoft's webmail product.

It seems like a prank because the museum is asking everyone in Australia to send in their 'best' emails and enter them in one of eight categories (Life and Laughter, Touching Tales, Family, Love and romance, E-mails, Embarrassing typos, Current affairs and Complaints.)

Wouldn't that be a fun job, sorting through all the entries in each category to decide which were worthy of archiving, which were the best, and which were least likely to lead to get the original author, ninemsn, Microsoft and the museum sued for defamation? That's not one I'd be putting my hands up for.

Yes, the terms of the promotion state that you not only take on liability for establishing copyright of the material, but also take on the risk of any legal action arising from, say, using someone else's forwarded email which then turns out to be a snippet from a novel or something that the subject of the email decides is defamatory. Good luck with that.

You'd expect the Powerhouse Museum to choose the best emails in each category, but no - it's a ninemsn/Microsoft promotion, and ninemsn gets to do the selection, thanks very much. Here's a tip for contest entrants: try inserting a few references to how great Hotmail is these days, how much you enjoy using MSN Messenger on your new Windows Mobile phone, and how amazing Windows Vista is these days since they shook out the last remaining glitches. Now you know who'll be judging the entries!

The final pinch-and-a-punch for this particular first day of the month is the news that all emails must be sent from a Hotmail account. And if you don't already have a Hotmail account, a handy link is provided to allow you to sign up for one.

So now what might at first glance appear to be a misguided but worthy effort to capture a little online culture for prosperity is revealed as a grubby attempt to artificially inflate ninemsn's Hotmail subscriptions for a month or two.

Not very many people are likely to use that new Hotmail account for anything other than entering the competition, since Hotmail is indelibly stamped with the spammer's seal of approval. Even if Hotmail is less prone to spam than it has been in the past, most of these casual one-time users won't stick around to find out.

How sad to see a major Australian museum involved in such a thinly-veiled marketing promotion.  "Marketing is punishment for a bad idea" said Andrew Hyde on Brian Burns' blog the other day. How very true. If only it had all been an April Fool's joke.

Buy content through ScooptWords