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Subject: uh... It was me : Confessions and Explanations : Part 3 ( 15 of 26 )
Posted by Jeremy Lee

[...continued from part 2]

I imagine it all started when someone pasted the h2g2 entry into an email message and sent it to some friends saying something like "Here's a funny article on Australia that I found in the Hitch-Hikers' Guide!". Given how population dynamics favours multiple simultaneous outbreaks to create a true epidemic, probably several people did that.

And everyone knows who wrote the Hitch-hikers guide, don't they?

* It went viral sometime about the end of January, 1999. First known contact was when my beloved Alys had it forwarded to her at work on Fri, 21 Jan 2000 09:58:51 +1000. At this point, it already had the Douglas Adams attribution, which never left.

* It was recieved by another good friend, Annette Fraser, on Tue, 01 Feb 2000 19:26:02 +1000.

* Buckaroo (Hamish MacGregor) got it Thu, 10 Feb 2000 15:48:42 +1000, also from a co-worker.

* Cameron Brown got it. Rafe Hatfield got it. Steve Clark got it. I don't have the emails, so I can't give an exact time, but it was around then.

* Lauchlan Carl got it Tue, 22 Feb 2000 11:56:57 +1000 after having it relayed by Jackie Nash who didn't know where it was from.

That constituted well over half my good friends with email access. Most didn't just get it once. We're talking maybe 60-70% penetration among my peers, which if it scales to the rest of the Aussie email audience, (estimated at over 4 million) is quite scary. It can now be found popping up on web sites, which is phase two of this kind of propagation. All attributed to Douglas Adams. The only exceptions were those who didn't attribute it at all.

Of significant note is that the period when it first appeared corresponds closely with the 26th of January, which is Australia Day, our biggest national holiday. This was probably the main trigger. That suggests it might reappear next year, perhaps in greater numbers. I shall be hiding under my bed.

I doubt it would have gone quite so far so fast without Douglas' name on it. Apart from that initial mutation, the virus has remained remarkably stable and has not changed form since, to my knowledge. Some even retain the footnotes. The actual text on h2g2 has been revised twice since the first edit, so there are potentially four slight variants that could be circulating. I can recognize all of them, but I've only seen the 'original edited' version.

It still seems to be propagating, though much slower. Friends have stopped getting it. (Or, at least, have stopped telling me about it.) Various forum messages indicate it has propagated nicely overseas, but it probably won't have the same kind of penetration it did here.

This has happened to me before, believe it or not. I once wrote a Linux/Microsoft rant called "The Two Towers" (obvious Tolkien references, for similar cultural-background reasons.) which CmdrTaco liked enough to turn into a feature, which the editor of a 'small Indian computer magazine' (it turned out to be ComputerWorld India) read, and emailed me to ask if he could reprint it. I said yes, and three months later a FedEx package arrived which contained a cloth-wrapped bundle which contained a copy of the Magazine in which my article appeared, shipped all the way from India via the USA. It had illustrations. I felt proud.

There's a lesson in this for all of us, but I'm buggered if I can work out what it is.

[continued in part 4...]
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