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The five greatest hoax Web sites of all time

Rumour & Humour: the 404 error message from hell and the end of the Internet scam plus more

With April Fool’s Day safely behind us – and the accompanying Conficker.C computer worm turning out to be a bit of a joke — it seems fitting to look back on the five greatest hoax websites of all time:

1. 3rd Annual Nigerian Email Conference: j-walk.com/other/conf

“Like most Nigerians,” this site says, “you’re probably finding that it’s increasingly difficult to earn a decent living from email. That’s why you need to attend the 3rd Annual Nigerian EMail Conference.” Despite the fact that the conference ended in 2003, visitors can still read the (ALL-CAPS) “Official Conference Proceedings” (which include, among other things, tips for making the most of the conference breakfast of hard boiled eggs, white bread and crickets).

2. Absolution Online: absolution-online.com

Confess your sins and receive penance, without leaving the comfort of your desk, via the Virtual Confessional and Virtual Rosary. (There’s no word on whether a Virtual Excommunication application might be on the way.)

3. Boilerplate: Mechanical Marvel of the Nineteenth Century: www.bigredhair.com/boilerplate

Less a hoax than a fantastic faux-documentary, Boilerplate is described as “a mechanical man developed by Professor Archibald Campion during the 1880s and unveiled at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.” Various black and white photos depict the Tin Man-esque Boilerplate as a soldier in the Spanish-American Civil War, for example, and on a turn-of-the-century stamp. Did Boilerplate actually exist? Err, not so much.

4. buydehydratedwater.com

This URL kind of speaks for itself, but in case the site’s name gets past you, it kicks off with the sensational: “You’ve seen it on TV, heard it on the radio, and read it in your local newspapers, ‘Our Public Water Supply Is Polluted and Dangerous!’” Dehydrated water, on the other hand, is “compact, lightweight, and easy to store.” It’s also the ultimate oxymoron (no offense intended).

5. California’s Velcro Crop Under Challenge: home.inreach.com/kumbach/velcro.html

This site, by the “mystery-shrouded” Ken Umbach, examines the events of 1993 when “California’s important Velcro crop, vital to the clothing, footwear, and sporting goods industries, was severely stressed by drought, disease, and pests.” Among the problems: “Dry and windy conditions have caused hook and loop spores to commingle even across widely spaced fields, resulting in tangled Velcro bolls combining both strains and unprocessable by any known means.”Oh, the humanity!

Special Bonus Hoax. The End of the Internet: shibumi.org/eoti/index.htm

A white screen, similar to a 404 error message. Then: “Congratulations! This is the last page. Thank you for visiting the End of the Internet. There are no more links. You must now turn off your computer and go do something productive.

Go read a book, for Pete’s sake.” Simple, effective – and in the end, pretty solid advice.