How advertising ruined the rickroll

I’m currently teaching a class called Who owns you? In this class students take a critical look at the apps we use on a daily basis, and they can learn to build their own simple apps if they want. To lighten things up, I’ve been starting each class with a computer-related joke – Why did the mosquito fly away from the computer? It didn’t want to get caught in the World Wide Web! Students love it, and the jokes often lead to meaningful critical and technical conversations.

Today I tried to go a step further and rickroll my entire class. I set up a document with the following text showing:

Today’s joke: (scroll to see the joke)

Then below the visible screen:

Why did the chicken cross the road? (scroll to see the answer)

And a little further down:

It worked – most of the students had never been rickrolled, and I got to sit back and watch them enjoy their first exposure to Rick Astley. In many ways, it was my most successful rickroll to date.

But in one significant way, the experience was utterly disappointing. When the student unknowingly clicked the link with all of us watching, a 30-second youtube ad started playing. Students are so used to ads that it didn’t ruin the rickroll – they were still caught off guard, and they still laughed and started dancing when they realized they’d been had. But the joke didn’t have nearly the same impact it would have had the video started playing instantly.

This led to a great discussion about the impact of online advertising. Students talked about the kinds of ads they like, and the kinds of ads that just get in the way of meaningful online experiences. Students recognize the need to fund online services; they know developers need to be paid, and they know that servers don’t run themselves. But most of us felt that anyone who cares about quality online experiences would never place an ad at the beginning of a Rick Astley video.

We didn’t stick to just advertising in today’s conversation; the rickroll is much more interesting than that. We also talked about what links meant in the original text-only internet, and how commerce helped and hurt the overall development of the internet.

It’s a great class. I just wish we could sort out online advertising well enough that today’s generation can enjoy the full experience of the rickroll.


About ehmatthes

Teacher, hacker, new dad, outdoor guy
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