AOL Watch ("The AOL List"): Celebrity Snafu

David Cassel (
Thu, 13 Nov 1997 09:27:47 -0800 (PST)

		    C e l e b r i t y   S n a f u


The contest crashed. 

Last week AOL announced a publicity stunt involving on-line sound files. 
Unidentified celebrities would offer their renditions of the phrases
"Welcome,"  "Good-bye," and "You've Got Mail" -- and users would try to
guess the voices. 

But not Wednesday afternoon.  Subscribers clicking the icon to submit
their entries were told "Location to send request is unknown." 

Despite that, AOL then displayed a message stating "Thanks for entering" 
-- and an ad. 

AOL Techs said it was a "known problem," acknowledging that it was "on our
end" and that they were "working" on it.  But it continued for at least
six hours.  (AOL tech support staffers continued advising users to "try
again later...")  Two hours after the glitch appeared, AOL's exit screen
was still promoting the contest subscribers apparently couldn't enter 
( ) with AOL's Welcome screen offering
similar pointers. 

Unreliability is factored into the official rules, which state that "if
technical difficulties compromise the integrity of the contest, the judges
reserve the right to terminate the online portion..."  Covering their
bases, AOL even included a twelve-line disclaimer stating that AOL isn't
responsible "for any human error, technical malfunctions, lost/delayed
data transmission, omission, interruption, deletion, defect, line failures
of any telephone network, computer equipment, software, inability to
access any online service or web site, or any other error or
malfunction..."  But users participating in the contest on-line face still
more disadvantages.  They have just seven days to enter -- whereas others
can continue to submit entries via the U.S. mail even after the
celebrity's identity has been revealed on-line. Apparently even people who
aren't subscribed to AOL can enter the contest through the U.S. mail. 
The official rules tell entrants to include their AOL screen name or
e-mail address -- "if any" -- and state that the contest is open "to legal
U.S. Residents, 18 years of age or older, who are licensed drivers in
their state of purchase necessary."  (To enter the drawing
for a BMW, "Print your name, address, city, state, ZIP Code, age...and
your answer to that week's Celebrity name on a 3" x 5" piece of paper"  --
then mail it to AOL Celebrity ' You've Got Mail ' Contest / P.O. Box 4032
/ Grand Rapids, MN 55730-4032.")  The correct answer for this week: Mick

That's not the only secret that's slipping out.  C|Net claims to have
uncovered the identity of the original "You've Got Mail" voice.  "He's a
friend of an AOL employee recorded about eight years ago before the launch
of version 1.0," an AOL spokesperson told the news network.  
(,4,16124,00.html )  But C|Net wasn't
first.  In 1995, Wired magazine's AOL forum claimed to have located the
voice, which they said belonged to Elwood Edwards.  Seizing the
opportunity, they recorded ten additional sound files.  Users found they
could make the voice say "You've got credit card debt,"  "You want fries
with that?"  and "Oy, Gevalt!"

Last year the "Oy Gevalt" file alone received 1200 downloads...
(,1012,14,00.html ) -- 
one for every 5500 AOL subscribers.

Meanwhile, AOL's "Heckler's Online" claims to have uncovered the Top 15
activities Edwards performs on his day off.  
( )  One
political cartoonist even suggested his voice played a role in a
computer's chess match against Garry Kasparov.  
( )  Ultimately, the voice's
cachet was appropriated by Earthlink, which in early 1997 purchased radio
ads capitalizing on AOL's 80% call-failure rate, one AOL Watch reader
reports.  The ads featured a speaker identified as the "You've Got Mail"
guy.  "You haven't been hearing me much lately..." he began... 

Users still clamor for the profanity-laced substitute for the "Goodbye"
file which sounds when users are spontaneously disconnected from the
system.  ( )  But for now, it
may be their only alternative.  After hearing Mick Jagger, the "Customize"
icon offers users a chance to "Get other celebrity voices" -- but no more
are available.  ( aol://4344:2593.celebgal.27984809.563297254 )

Ironically, technical glitches also marred the night of Mick Jagger's
first appearance on AOL in 1994.  AOL's Auditorium only handled a few
hundred attendees, and many fans found they could only enter another chat
facility -- the Odeon.  There they found a chat in progress with Oingo
Boingo frontman Danny Elfman (who also composed the themes for "The
Simpsons" and the movie Batman).  The Odeon moderator failed to detect the
confusion, and, according to Scott Rosenberg of the San Francisco
Examiner, bombarded the composer with questions meant for the Rolling
Stones singer. 

"Elfman finally lost it when someone asked, 'What about the rumors
involving you and David Bowie which have been repeated again and again by
Howard Stern?' " 
Elfman's response was "I'm not Mick Jagger, you blithering idiot."

AOL excised that embarrassing incident from their transcript
) -- but others capture unfortunate lapses in AOL's technical capability.
"Well, it looks like we lost Robert," the emcee announced in a 1995
appearance by columnist Robert Seidman.  ("While we are waiting for him to
return, I'd like to mention that you can find 'In, Around, and Online's
Home Page in the Internet Connection...")  "He's calling a local BBS," one
audience member suggested.

Seidman had bad news when he returned.  "I hate to say it...but I was
using AOLNet!"  He'd failed in his attempt to circumvent AOL's glitches. 
"Typically, I access AOL via my Internet connection," he continued, "but
that isn't always stable either, so I figured I'd use AOLNet to be safe. 
Go figure!" 

Nothing's changed.  Tuesday, as the band Hanson appeared in AOL Live, they
spontaneously disappeared from AOL's corner of cyberspace. 

"Please join America Online in welcoming to AOL Live, HANSON!"  the emcee
announced minutes before.  "Ladies and Gentlemen, please stand by, until
HANSON returns to our event," they later hemmed nervously.... 

Ironically, the band's album was titled "Snowed In." 

AOL's Online Host automatically announced that Hanson had left the room. 
"Shows the reliability of AOL," one subscriber grumbled later.  But it
could be worse.  "BEST Clancy Exclusive ever!"  AOL's Book Report
announces, promoting "Tom Clancy's Politika". Keyword "Clancy" was also
created to promote the author's "tale of terrorism, deception and murder." 
But deception doesn't end there.  "I didn't write it," Tom Clancy told the
San Francisco Chronicle.  "Marty Greenberg and another guy put it

"He mutters the co-author's name," the newspaper reports, "then refuses to
repeat it.  ' Just look at the book,' he barked. 'It's all in the book'."

Only a handful of users encounter the opposite problem.  A chat room about
Star Trek once discovered an obnoxious user who insisted he was William
Shatner.  Only later, when an Entertainment Weekly reporter offered proof,
did they realize he really was.

Usually it works the other way.  Saturday a user identifying themself as
Steve Case requested users tell him their password to fend off an ominous
technical problem.  AOL's ongoing technical problems give these hustles
credibility -- so navigating AOL safely requires a healthy dose of

But in this case, the tip-off was obvious.  The profile for "Steve Case" 
gave his occupation as:  "clothes".


Ironically, Mick Jagger appeared in Microsoft's "Start Me Up" ads for the
launch of Windows 95 -- and a Rolling Stones Visa card competes with AOL's
own Visa card.  ( )  Jagger still
gamely attempted to bring life to AOL's three sounds:  Welcome ("Hello,
there!"), You've Got Mail, ("You've got some letters") and "Goodbye"
(which the publicity-conscious Jagger translated into "See you on
the tour.")  

But his presence may have been superfluous.  One help menu explains to
users that "You can still enter the contest, even if you can't hear the

    David Cassel
    More Information -


  Please forward with subscription information and headers.   To subscribe
  to this list, type your correct e-mail address in the form at the bottom
  of the page at -- or send e-mail to MAJORDOMO@CLOUD9.NET
  containing the phrase SUBSCRIBE AOL-LIST in the the message body.  

  To unsubscribe from the list, send a message to MAJORDOMO@CLOUD9.NET
  containing the phrase UNSUBSCRIBE AOL-LIST.