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PetrolDirect - The Facts

16th September 2005

"Is it real?" and "How can I order?" are two of the most common questions fielded by PetrolDirect's team of customer service staff (of one person). The answers are "no" and "you can't", because PetrolDirect is a spoof site, partly a satire on e-commerce, and partly frustration about the price of fuel (or more accurately, frustration with people moaning about the price of fuel), and with a little bit of liberal tree hugging environmental comment thrown in.

The site was created way back in May 2005, but in September 2005 it hit a nerve, pulling in over 50,000 visitors a week and the traffic is still growing. Most of that traffic has come from people who have visited the site and are now "in" on the joke, who then go and post onto various forums and message boards to wind people up.

A surprising number of people fall for it, and many messageboard threads are very funny in their own right. The site is designed to be plausible to those who just skim it - but read more deeply and it gets increasingly silly. This gives a great opportunity for people on messageboards to call each other muppets.

The site is the work of part-time humorist Conrad Longmore who is also the only member of staff who says - "PetrolDirect combines ideas that I had floating around in my head for some time. Eventually I just ran out of excuses not to do something with them." Some inspiration comes from a site called Spam The Engines - "that's a very simple and elegant site that was made a few years ago by someone else", and also Kittens Direct - "I'd love to see the owner develop that site". The fictional PetrolDirect can be seen as a sister company to the Slimeware Corporation, a site created in 2003: "that was a parody I created of companies that made a business of installing spyware and parasiteware onto people's PCs. When I created it I thought it was all pretty far-out stuff, but then the slimeware manufacturers actually went and did it in the end. I guess that perhaps someone will crack the secret of sending petrol in the post too!"

So is there a deep and meaningful message to PetrolDirect. "Errr.. not really. It's just meant to be funny. Although it did enable me to have a rant about those people who moan about fuel prices and then drive a giant 4x4 down to the shops. Ultimately though the problem with fuel prices is that demand is outstripping supply, and it's a non-renewable energy source.. then you have to factor in the carbon emissions. Perhaps petrol at a pound a litre will make us think a bit harder about the issues here."

What about the issue of fuel duty? "It's expensive, certainly, but in fact fuel in the UK is now not much more expensive that many other parts of Europe, simply because the price of oil keeps rising and the amount of tax stays more or less the same. Taxing fuel is also a simple and cost effective way of collecting revenue, and it's proportional to the amount you use the roads and the fuel consumption of your engine. On the other hand, the road fund licence is becoming increasingly obsolete as a tax-generating tool - perhaps this should be abolished, and instead cars should display a small insurance and MOT certificate in their windows".

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