Displaying some very impressive sleuthing skills, Jonathon Keats has apparently solved the mystery of the origin of the ubiquitous Bill-Gates-will-pay-you-to-forward-this-email hoax. He writes about it in an article in Wired
. He traced the origin of the hoax back to November 18, 1997 when Iowa State student Bryan Mack was sitting in a campus computer lab and created the first version of the email as a joke that he sent to a friend sitting beside him. It read:
"My name is Bill Gates. I have just written up an email-tracing program that traces everyone to whom this message is forwarded to. I am experimenting with this and I need your help. Forward this to everyone you know, and if it reaches 1,000 people, everyone on the list will receive $1,000 at my expense. Enjoy. Your friend, Bill Gates."
Mack's friend sent it to another friend, who sent it to yet another friend, etc., etc., And the rest was history. Soon it had blossomed into a thousand different forms that found their way into the inbox of just about everyone who's ever used email. Keats notes that Mack had also inadvertently written one of the 'greatest social critiques of our age.' "He'd shown that when it comes to technology, people believe that anything can happen - that invasion of privacy is inevitable - and that even those who don't like it are willing to benefit from it."
Oh, and Keats also quoted me in the article, which was a nice, ego-flattering surprise to stumble upon.