Microsoft Flushes iLoo--For Now - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Flushes iLoo--For Now

The company reverses itself and says the idea of building an Internet-enabled portable toilet was real, not a hoax--but has been killed

SEATTLE (AP) -- What's true with the iLoo? Microsoft Corp. and its public relations firm changed their story--again--Tuesday about whether the United Kingdom division had been developing an Internet-enabled portable toilet.

On Monday, three representatives for the software giant told news agencies, including The Associated Press, that an April 30 news release trumpeting the "iLoo" was a hoax and apologized for "any confusion or offense."

But on Tuesday, the company reversed itself, saying the iLoo was real but now has been killed.

"We jumped the gun basically yesterday in confirming that it was a hoax, and in fact it was not," said Lisa Gurry, MSN group product manager. "Definitely, we're going to be taking a good look at our communication processes internally."

It's a public relations embarrassment for a company famous for micromanaging news releases, interviews and promotional events.

"It's definitely not how we like to do PR at Microsoft," Gurry said.

The iLoo was described as a portable toilet equipped with a wireless keyboard and a height-adjustable plasma screen with high-speed Internet access. Microsoft's MSN division was "in the process of converting a portable loo to create a unique experience" in time for the summer festival season, according to the release.

Several news organizations, including the AP, carried reports of the project. An AP reporter specifically asked whether it was a hoax and was assured last week by Microsoft, its Portland, Ore.-based PR firm Waggener Edstrom, and another PR firm in London, Red Consultancy, that the project was real.

On Monday, technology Web site CNET, based on a tip, wrote that the iLoo was a hoax and quoted Microsoft spokesman Nouri Bernard Hasan as saying, "I can confirm it was an April Fool's joke."

The AP and The Wall Street Journal also were told Monday by two company spokeswomen that the iLoo was a fraud.

On Tuesday, though, Microsoft said it had relied on bad information from a Microsoft employee in the United Kingdom who said it was a hoax, Gurry said. After more talks with people in London, the company determined it was a real project, after all.

The U.K. division likes to run clever and innovative marketing campaigns, Gurry said, and had thought an iLoo would appeal to the British. MSN typically allows its units to tailor their own campaigns to their regions, she said.

But MSN's executive team, which had heard of the iLoo through news reports, took the unusual step of killing the project on Monday, she said, believing that the portable toilet "wasn't the best extension of our brand."

It's still unclear how much work was ever done on the iLoo. Gurry said she did not know how much time or money was spent on it.

The company had said it was building a prototype and was in the process of converting a portable toilet. But MSN marketing manager Tracy Blacher said Tuesday in London that the company had not done that. Rather, Blacher, who described the project in the original news release that quoted her repeatedly, said MSN had some discussions with portable toilet manufacturers, which she said she could not name because she was not at her desk.

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