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December 08, 2004

Harvard-Yale Game prank shows power of viral/social networks

By Charlene Li

I came back from the Thanksgiving break to find a link from a colleague who had attended the Harvard-Yale Game with his daughter. He sent me to this page which showed the results of a very clever prank – Yale students disguised as the Harvard Pep Squad distributed white and crimson squares to people on the Harvard side, telling them that the sign would spell “Go Harvard”. It actually spelled out “We Suck”. (This prank is reminiscent of the MIT hack at the 1982 Harvard Yale game.)

Now as a Harvard alum, I was quite disturbed that we could have been so gullible. But what intrigued me as an analyst was the fact that the pranksters put up the site in an attempt to sell posters of the prank and hopefully recoup some of their costs.

I contacted Mike Kai, the senior at Yale who organized the prank, to find out what the results were. They made their site live this Sunday morning, Nov. 29th, and sent the URL to a few friends via email and instant messaging. After 12 hours, they had 7,200 unique visitors. Here’s what their results are so far, demonstrating the power of viral networks – and a little media coverage didn’t hurt either!

+ Monday, Nov. 30th: 73,000 unique visitors
+ Tuesday, Dec. 1st: 121,000 unique visitors
+ Wednesday, Dec. 2nd: 280,000 unique visitors

Despite the success of the prank, it turns out Harvard creamed Yale 35-3 and ended the season with an unbeaten 10-0 record. Go Crimson!

Here’s the kicker – it turns out Mike and a few of his friends have been working on a social networking start-up. Called “Scape”, they have a version of the system at Yale which allows students to share media with each other, especially photos via personal blogs. When someone posts information to their blog, their color in the network changes which tells you to go and see what’s new. This is very similar in concept to what MSN Spaces has enabled with MSN Messenger and Hotmail, where the contact card shows the latest blog post from Spaces. Goes to show that great minds think alike.


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Perhaps I'm the hundredth person to tell you this -

I read that Caltech did this prank first... and it was broadcast on live TV throughout the US. Actually the Caltech prank looks like it was more complex than what those Yale kids managed:


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