Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

July 10, 2008

This Whole Nasty Loren Feldman/1938 Media Business


Loren Feldman's Controversial "Where Are the Black Bloggers" Video

Verizon has nailed Loren Feldman, whose quixotic but occasionally hilarious videos have won the hearts and minds of thousands. But Verizon renaged from the agreement to make Feldman's clips available to its mobile network after protesters alleged that a video recorded by Feldman last year entitled "Where Are the Black Tech Bloggers" promoted anti-African-American stereotypes.

I generally like Feldman because he takes aim at powerful and pompous tech industry people with the power to hurt him back, and this may have been what happened to him this time around. But I don't think "Where Are The Black Tech Bloggers" is funny, nor is it even true. There have been several notable black tech bloggers, notably Steve Gilliard (1964-2007) who blogged about tech copiously from the late 1990s to 2003.

In my view, Feldman fell short by not acknowledging that African Americans have been, are, and will be important members of the Blogging scene when he created "Where Are The Black Tech Bloggers." Even those who believe that Mr. Feldman's wish for "a different cultural view of technology" is sincere should be troubled that he didn't better research his subject before creating this video.

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January 28, 2008

Steve Gilliard's Timeless Tips For Avoiding Valentine's Day Depression

Steve Gilliard's Timeless Tips For Avoiding Valentine's Day DepressionSteve Gilliard, who died far too early last year, had a lot to say about Love in the Age of the Modem, and his classic, laugh-until-you-cry treatise on the Valentine's Day blues, "Valentine's Day: The Meaning of Hell," written for Netslaves.com, is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it in 2001.

Steve's recipe for evading Valentine's Day depression was straightforward. Instead of wallowing in your misery, take steps to distract your mind from your wretched isolation. So watch movies ("romance will not be on your mind as the Germans shoot it out with hordes of Russian infantrymen"), play video games ("Unreal Tournament, Rainbow Six, Diablo"), drink ("the catch-all solution to personal pain"), watch TV ("there is no Valentine's Day on ESPN"), and if necessary, work, perhaps by "building some code for a doomed website." Don't think, don't brood, find a way to pass the time and you'll be OK, because Valentine's Day, despite its acute horror, is just "one intensely painful day which reminds you of your flaws and failures like no other." So get through those nasty 24 hours, people, and remember: as amazing as it might seem, things could be worse.

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January 07, 2008

From The Steve Gilliard Files: "How to Read a 10Q" Financial Reporting

From The Steve Gilliard Files: By the Spring of 2001, Steve Gilliard had come to the realization that the only way to win online arguments with his many critics on Netslaves.com was with facts, not assertions, and so was born his "How to Read a 10Q," which ran from April through May.

"How to Read a 10Q" was a big hit on Netslaves.com, and I encouraged Steve to market the concept as a short business book. Steve was receptive to the idea but was less enthused with writing an actual proposal, so the book concept was still-born. Still, we are left with nine marvelous articles (plus an intro) providing a blend of hard facts, terse (and often hilariously funny) commentary, plus Steve's keen-eyed analysis that's eminently readable today, even though most of the companies Steve discussed are gone and forgotten.

These articles are being made available as a complete online set for the first time since their initial publication on Netslaves.com in 2001. Make sure you scroll down to read the comments that Steve made during post-publication discussion -- he would often lurk and strike with an able epithet when you least expected it!

  • Introduction (Exploring Public Documents (A Forensic Analysis of Failed Internet Companies) (April 22, 2001)
    "I only learned how to do this over years of training and research. It was not easy to learn, so there is no reason to feel bad about not knowing it. Examining the earnings of small, public companies can prevent you from making serious errors in the future."

  • Part 1: IVillage.com (April 19, 2001)
    "IVillage has lost $384.3 million since it began operation in 1995. It has lost $351 million of that sum since 1998. This is the largest single loss of any dotcom and could go higher. "

  • Part 2: Salon (April 20, 2001)
    "In our look at Salon, we see a company which is losing money steadily, with no real hope of profitability, not now or in the future."

  • Part 3: Razorfish (April 23, 2001)
    "Word on the street, and from former Fish employees, is that their customers were pissed with both attitude and delivery."

  • Part 4: Juno.com (April 24, 2001)
    "One gets the feeling that they are nibbling at the edges of solutions and they may never be able to capture the audience they need to survive."

  • Part 5: AskJeeves.com (April 27, 2001)
    "Watch the losses climb. $6m to $52m to $189m. Wow. You have to wonder what management was doing to get their losses to exponentially increase every year, besides their silly commercials and marketing campaigns which no one seems to remember."

  • Part 6: Webvan.com (April 28, 2001)
    "So who doesn't it compete with? Crack dealers and gun stores? This is everyone from Kroger and Piggly Wiggly to CVS and Rite Aid to Wal-Mart and K-Mart. They are taking on American retailing."

  • Part 7: LoudCloud.com (May 3, 2001)
    "We are a high falutin' Web hostin' kind of company. You will pay us a lot of money to use our software, which seems to have had its genesis in technologies Netscape was using in 1996."

  • Part 8: TheGlobe.com (May 4, 2001)
    "By going public, the Globe ensured that a few key investors would get rich, but as we all know, the stock has dropped to being nearly valueless today."

  • Part 9: Agency.com (May 7, 2001)
    "They aren't as embarassing as Razorfish, but because the recipe is flavored differently doesn't necessarily mean that you aren't eating liver. Nor does it necessarily mean that they are hiring experienced people who actually know what they are doing."

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Can Blogging Actually Kill You?

Can Blogging Actually Kill You?The New York Times has a short but interesting article triggered by the much-publicized heart attack of Om Malik, who runs the popular GigaOm Blog (note: I have been linked to by Om and consider him an online friend, although we've never actually spoken or even e-mailed each other).

As the article notes, being a successful Blogger means being a one-man (or woman), "twenty-four by seven content machine" in an environment wherein there is no fixed publishing deadline. Instead one is in a constant race with competitors (many of whom may be in different time zones) for link-worthy posts. Add the pressure to "monetize" one's pages and to publish frequently enough so that unforgiving Google (which counts newer pages as more significant than old ones) keeps you spidered every hour or so and you've got a prescription for a heart attack. I don't even need to mention how Blogging can reduce your intake of fresh air or Vitamin D through sunlight; the average American only spends 10 minutes outdoors and I'd imagine that the average Blogger only spends about a minute outdoors every two days.

One of my online buddies used to drink two gallons of diet cola each day as he created his online content, smoked a pile of cigarettes and continuously inhaled laser toner fumes. He's still alive after years of Blogging but another good friend, Steve Gilliard, died before he was 40. I can't say that Blogging killed Steve but it sure didn't help his health any. What I can say is that when you're Blogging in a conversational way, i.e. via the "comment" function or in a non-Blogging environment such as a Bulletin Board, your adrenaline levels spike and ebb violently during the day and night. Flame wars (which can be highly addictive) play havoc with your serotonin levels and sleep habits, which everybody knows is bad for you. Add to this the kind of substances (legal and perhaps non-legal) that you have to consume to stay "in the Blogging zone" (a zone slightly to the East of total Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and it's obvious that Blogging isn't just dangerous: it's a killer with the power to take out an entire generation.

I suppose one can make an argument, Freakonomics-style, that Blogging may have saved as many as it's killed. After all, when you're Blogging you're not likely crash your car into a pole or be run down by a bicycle messenger. But the same could be said for any activity that keeps you off the streets and roads.

I firmly believe that as we enter what techno-optimist Bill Gates calls "our second digital decade," we'll learn enough about the long term effects of our increased dependence on technology to scare us to death. The larger question is whether these revelations will be sufficient to cause many to rethink their total immersion in cyberspace and follow the course of Jennifer Ringley, who at the peak of her cyber-fame chucked it all and disappeared back into the analog world.

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January 01, 2008

An Interesting Thread on Steve Gilliard's Early Writings

An Interesting Thread on Steve Gilliard's Early WritingsAs you may know, I was Steve Gilliard's editor for several years when we were both associated with the Netslaves project. Some might call Netslaves.com a pioneering pre-Blogospheric experiment in controlled high-pressure rage channeling; others an incredibly botched attempt at building a bona fide Web brand. By the time it was all over I was hopeless, penniless, and emptying dumpsters in Yonkers to stay alive. Steve wasn't doing much better, and neither was Bill Lessard, Netslaves.com's co-founder.

The irony that those who sought to chronicle the worst of the dotcom era were undone by the same destructive madness that took down the "New Economy" has never been lost on me. But that's all ancient history now: what counts is that Netslaves.com incubated the great writing talent that became Steve Gilliard (1964-2007), and some very talented folks are keeping the Gilliard flame alive at a site called The Group News Blog. This week, they're looking back at Steve's early writings, many of which have been archived here. Check out the discussion for a good look at Steve's work both while at Netslaves.com and elsewhere.

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December 30, 2007

Steve Gilliard Memorialized in New York Times Magazine

Steve Gilliard Memorialized in New York Times MagazineThe New York Times issued its annual end of year issue giving tribute to remarkable people who passed in 2007. I'm glad that it chose to honor Steve Gilliard in this section, and Matt Bai, who wrote the article on Steve (entitled "Invisible Blogger") did an excellent job summing up his life and work. I was very lucky to know Steve and serve as his editor when he discovered his talent for "incendiary oration." While Netslaves.com is no more I've archived many of his seminal articles on Ghost Sites, you can read them here.

I was especially pleased that Mr. Bei quoted an article by Steve that I restored to the Web shortly after Steve's passing; you can read the full text of this article, titled "Let's Talk About Geeks," here.

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July 23, 2007

In the Sprit of Netslaves: Don't Complain, Says Newsweek: Drive a Truck!

I'm really sorry that Steve Gilliard isn't around to skewer the clueless editors who ran a story on Newsweek.com praising the fact that more Americans over 50, facing a cruel job market, are now driving trucks.

Sure, driving a truck is surely better than being completely unemployed, but packaging what's clearly a desperate act as a savvy career move is insane. "Despite the grueling hours and physical demands, it can be a win-win situation," writes Newsweek, without speaking to a single old-timer willing to characterize his downward economic mobility as anything but a wonderful thing. Newsweek obviously only spoke to a couple of drivers in its story, and naturally, they didn't want to say they felt like failures.

The real story, however, the fact that trained, educated, downsized people over 50 are failing in ever-greater numbers, being humiliatingly reduced to blue-collar labor status, will remain for some other publication to find.

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July 06, 2007

Red Herring 2007 = APBNews.com 2001?

In an eerie throwback to 2001, ValleyWag reports that technology magazine Red Herring may have stopped paying its staff, including former Ziff-Davis heavyweight Joel Dreyfuss, its current editor. Red Herring, it should be remembered, was a magazine formed in the late 1990's to channel dotcom ad dollars to its pages. It survived the Web 1.0 shakeout, cut costs by reverting to a 'zine, but this latest news suggests that it may not be faring well, even with a skeleton crew. The whole affair is an eerie reminder of the time that APBNews.com, a celebrated Web 1.0 startup, did the same thing back in 2001, and Netslaves.com's Steve Gilliard called them to account for it.

I guess everything that's old is new again in the tech industry boom/bust cycle.

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July 03, 2007

From the Netslaves Archives: E-Bitch's Unemployment Journal IX: The Laundry Chronicles

"When was the last time you had a meaningful discussion about laundry?" -- Steve Gilliard, 2001

Steve Gilliard was Netslaves.com's star writer, but he wasn't Netslaves.com's only regular contributor. For a brief time between 1999 and 2002, Netslaves functioned as a low-rent cyber-salon for the stylishly unemployed, servicing a roster of contributors who submitted articles because they had something to say, hoped to become famous for a few nanoseconds, or had nothing else to do, having lost their jobs but not yet their Internet access.

When Netslaves.com was destroyed in 2003, its writers scattered to the ends of cyberspace. Steve Gilliard found temporary shelter at The Daily Kos and ultimately founded his own site, but others, including the writer known as "E-Bitch," remain unaccounted for. Before she disappared, however, E-Bitch left behind a remarkable multipart series dubbed "Unemployment Journal" which chronicled what it was like to be young and unemployed in New York during the dotcom bust. (Hint: it wasn't fun.)

While the bulk of the writing that went into Netslaves.com concerned itself with dystopic futurist issues, E-Bitch's writing refreshingly concrete: the way the walls looked at the New York State unemployment office, the way cheap food tasted, the way decomposing hair feels when it is removed from the shower drain. Because it wasn't really "tech writing," it rarely got much attention from Netslaves.com's readers, who clearly preferred articles about the flaws in Linux, The New Economy, Pseudo.com, or Jason McCabe Calacanis. Consequently, E-Bitch probably took more online abuse for her choice of subject matter than Steve Gilliard did for repeatedly using the F-Word or failing to use a spell-checker.

Still, E-Bitch's articles provide an acerbic look at how desperate New York was back in the early '00's, and her best work continues to stand the test of time. Among my favorites is Unemployment Journal IX: The Laundry Chronicles, a free-verse ode to the most prosaic task imaginable in the Big Apple: taking steps to ensure that your clothes don't stink. While the New Economy of 2001 bears little or new resemblance to the Google Economy of 2007, laundry remains a constant in our lives, and people feel as strongly about it as they do about Rupert Murdoch, Sergey Brin, or Yahoo. Laundry remains relevant, and it's amazing to me that VC's haven't become involved in the laundry industry, especially because geeks, as long as six years ago, were clamoring for more connected laundomats. One wrote:

Are there any e-enabled laundries in New York? You know, with three dollar an hour 56K dial-up terminals? I've been looking to drop a load in one for a while. This might be a great business opportunity for the owners - they could simply recycle old machines (computers, not dryers), run Linux/GNOME on them, and put them to money-making use. Could give Linux a big boost too.


One can only hope that this geek didn't wait too long before "dropping his load" because E-Laundry parlors never did became established in New York City.

You can read (but not discuss) E-Bitch's Unemployment Journal IX: The Laundry Chronicles by clicking here.

More Classic E-Bitch Articles from The Netslaves Archives

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July 02, 2007

More Vintage Steve Gilliard Articles from the Netslaves Archives

I continue to labor to restore Steve's articles to their former glory. This job threatens to turn me into a Netslave again, but I'm willing to pay the price! So here's a "10-Pack" of classic Steve Gilliard articles that highlight Steve's pre-Blogosphere career: reading these articles is a bit like watching The Beatles perform in the Cavern Club in 1962.

My personal faves for this week? The Rich Are Different From You and Me (Comments on the Digital Mafia, Boss Bloomberg, and the Stanford Billionaire Boys Club) and The Great Geek Trap.

Latest Restored Steve Gilliard Articles: 07/02/07


You can read more of Steve Gilliard's classic articles for Netslaves.com by clicking here, here, and here. This material will eventually be consolidated into one central archive.

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June 21, 2007

More Updates to the Netslaves Archive

I continue to make steady progress on the task of restoring Steve Gilliard's work for Netslaves.com. My aim is to make all of Steve's articles available to the Web again, and expect the restoration work to take most of this Summer. The work involves a lot of HTML gruntwork, but it's worth it. I'm really enjoying reading Steve again, and his old articles really stand the test of time. In a funny way, I feel that I'm bringing his body of work home to where it all began so many years ago: on the servers of disobey.com.

Here is this week's chunk of restored material. It includes:You can read more of Steve Gilliard's classic articles for Netslaves.com by clicking here and here. This material will eventually be consolidated into one central archive.

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June 18, 2007

From the Steve Gilliard Files: The Incredible Flying Scooter

Back in January of 2001, hardly anybody was talking about Osama Bin Laden, Global Warming, or Saddam Hussein. Across America, the big buzz was about a miraculous invention dubbed "IT," whose impact might be bigger than the atomic bomb or the internal combustion engine. And somehow, only John Doerr, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos had actually seen this remarkable machine in action.

"IT," (later code-named "Ginger") turned out to be nothing more interesting than a gyroscopically stabilized scooter, and seven years later, it's just a big, expensive novelty, not the planet-changing machine it was hyped to be.

It's easy to forget how our collective minds can be warped by corporate hype, but Steve Gilliard was a hype-buster extraordinare. In an article posted to Netslaves on January 12th, 2001 entitled "The Flying Scooter," he takes Doerr, Jobs, Bezos, and their media partners in mega-hype to task.

As Steve so accurately noted, "the whole thing smells familiar. They should have a tag line: the super scooter, from the same people who brought you the Mac, mail order books online and VC funding."

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June 13, 2007

The Day That Sydney Schanberg Invited Netslaves' Steve Gilliard to an Editorial Rumble

When Netslaves hired Steve Gilliard as writer and "media operative" in early 2000, we knew that we were in for a wild ride. Gilliard had already proven himself to be a sharp-barbed skewerer on Silicon Alley's WWWAC list, so we knew that whatever he did for Netslaves would likely create enemies. But none of us knew that his first major action for us would be to piss off Sydney Schanberg, one of New York journalism's major luminaries, to the point that Schanberg invited our editorial team to an impromptu riot.

The whole mess began after Schanberg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Killing Fields, hooked up with a project called APBNews.com. Remember, this was a time when many Old Media journos (including Lou Dobbs) were bailing from their slow-moving Old Media companies and staking their claims in cyberspace. APBNews.com was among the first of Silicon Alley's content startups to get into serious trouble, and when it began to run out of cash in June of 2000, it asked its staff to continue to work for the site for free.

Gilliard saw this as an outrageous assault on the principle that writers should be paid for their work, and immediately attacked APBNews in what he called "An Open Letter to APBNews" He began it with the following passage, which is one of my all-time favorite Steve Gilliard openings:

The crash and burn of APBNews.com was no surprise... except to its employees.

They called you in at 9:30 AM Monday and said it was over. That's right. It went from 140 employees to zero just like that. Management never dealt honestly with their people and were still hiring until the final countdown. They had given you the news after a weekend where you were feted at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel's ballroom. That's one of the best places on earth to eat mediocre hotel food.

The reaction to Gilly's missive was stunned, hurt, and vituperative. ABNews.com's semi-employed survivors wasted no time lambasting Netslaves.com, not for what it wrote, but for the way it was written:

Name: David J. Krajicek
Email: dkrajicek@aol.com
Comment: You see, Mr. Gilliard, APB--however flawed--was a news site peopled by adult journalists. Someone like you, who posts infantile, uninformed screeds, who confuses obscenities with deep thought, who so desperately needs a professional copy editor reading his work, could never understand.

Others supported Gilly, and all day, an escalating flame war consumed the pages of Netslaves.com. Finallly, Sydney Schanberg himself laid down the challenge:

Name: syd schanberg
Email: sydney.schanberg@apbnews.com
Comment: I'd be much more impressed by the brave insults gratuitously spewed at us by Messrs. Gilliard et al if they had the spine and character to come to our news room at 65 Broadway and deliver them in person. Do come. Show us you're really grown-ups. Sincerely, Syd Schanberg


Netslaves' Bill Lessard, somewhat stunned by our close brush with journalistic royalty, asked Schanberg to clarify:

Email: netslaves@hotmail.com
Comment: Syd,
Should we bring baseball bats? Does this mean that you want to rumble? Sorry to sound arch, but if you don't agree with us, that's fine. Call us idiots, dismiss us as sub-literate morons, but don't cheapen yourself with threats.


We didn't hear back from Syd, so we didn't make a move. Maybe we copped out by not grabbing a bunch of hand tools and heading over to 65 Broadway. How tough could Schanberg et al really be? But was the challenger really Schanberg or just an agent provacateur? (this all happened before we installed IP-logging on the site).

I'll always wonder what the outcome of a physical struggle would have been. But we never took Schanberg up on his challenge, because we really didn't know what to bring. Clubs? Bolt-action rifles? Lawyers? So we just pulled down our window shades, made sure that we weren't being followed, snd stayed close to our computers, stoking the virtual fires from Yonkers and East Harlem.

It was clear that Steve Gilliard was unafraid of breaching one of New York journalism's most important but unwritten rules: that you must never, EVER attack one of your own. From that moment on, we knew that Gilliard was a major talent. Having this kind of talent on staff might get us all killed, or at least blacklisted as working journalists, but way back then, when we were young and spry, we just didn't give a damn.

For further informed vitriol on "l'affaire APBNews.com," see Steve Gilliard postings on APBnews.com's demise:

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June 12, 2007

Anti-Gilliard Blogger Impales Herself on Her Own Posts

No, Steve Gilliard didn't reach out from beyond the grave to "take out" a Blogger who posted racist remarks about Steve while cashing an ABC paycheck for WKRN, a radio station in Nashville, Tennessee. This person, whose name is Brittney Gilbert, reposted vicious remarks about Steve that I will not repeat here. While she did not write these words, she posted them without distancing herself from them, and in her farewell message, she side-stepped her own responsibility by blaming the Blogosphere and calling it "a mean place."

Let me tell you something, Brittney Gilbert. The Blogosphere isn't "a mean place;" it's just transparent. If you make an outrageous, indefensible statement, or repost same without putting it into the proper context, it will come back to haunt you. John Lennon called this "instant Karma" but I'm almost positive you've never heard of him. You can play the victim game all you want but unless you accept some personal responsibility here, you will continue to misunderstand this game and will likely repeat your mistake again and again.

This isn't a left vs. right wing thing, Ms. Gilbert. It's about the limits of acceptable discourse in a civil society. Believe it or not, there are actually ways you can express disagreement with a point without resorting to name-calling or epithets. Please try to find them, and remember: the Web isn't a consequence-free video game, regardless of which corporate logo you wear on your sweater.

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June 11, 2007

NPR Pays Tribute to Steve Gilliard

There's an excellent radio piece on Steve Gilliard's life and work on NPR's Web site. This 2-minute segment was produced by Farai Chideya. You can listen to it online.

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Updates to the Netslaves Archive

I was busy over the weekend digging up more ancient content that Steve Gilliard wrote for Netslaves.com in its early years. I've found a lot of material and will be restoring it in chunks as time permits. So here's a chunk of vintage Steve Gilliard content from early 2001. More to come soon! (Note: If you want to see all of the articles that were written for Netslaves in this time period (not just Gilly's contributions), please inspect The Netslaves Archive.) If you want to know which of these articles is my personal favorite, it's definitely Valentine's Day: The Meaning of Hell (What To Do On the Most Miserable Day of the Year?)

This week's restored Steve Gilliard Articles:
A list of Steve's pre-February 2001 articles for Netslaves.com is available here.

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June 08, 2007

At Steve Gilliard's Wake

I got up to Steve Gilliard's wake last night. I hadn't been up in East Harlem in years, but lived on 116th Street during the late 1980's, and the neighborhood is much as I remember it. Steve's wake was at a funeral home on 104th Street and 2nd Avenue.

When I showed up at around 5:00 PM, the viewing room was very quiet, and those assembled were mainly his family and neighborhood friends. But many others soon showed up: friends from NYU, and from the Blogosphere, including Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga of the DailyKos, several folks from FireDogLake, Bill Lessard, of the NetSlaves project, and many others who had known Steve from cyberspace. Of course, Steve's longtime friend Jen was there.

As the crowd swelled, the silence yielded to many soft-murmered conversations celebrating Steve's life and achievements. We paid our respects and headed out into the warm night. It was sad to know that we had seen his face for the last time in this world.

Steve's funeral was today, in New Jersey.

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June 07, 2007

Is FeckedCompany.com a Ghost Site?

FeckedCompany.com, a site against which Netslaves.com fought a disastrous war which ended in 2003 with the destruction of Netslaves.com, appears to finally have succumbed to the forces of entropy. Its once-popular Bulletin Board now yields a "Server Not Found" message. Word on the street is that Phil Kaplan, AKA "Pud" agreed to muzzle FC.com to smooth the acquisition process for his ad company, Adbrite, which is now backed by Sequoia Capital, a fabulously wealthy VC firm.

Steve Gilliard thought a lot of Pud, and FC.com became the most popular site of the so-called "post-boom" dotcom era. But it's time has passed, and Phil Kaplan has reconstituted himself as an online ad baron. Good: Phil worked hard enough, although I remain critical of the way he ran his board. Everyone is entitled to a few sour grapes.

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June 06, 2007

More on Steve Gilliard from the Netslaves Archives

I was rummaging through an old, uncompleted draft of a "History of Netslaves.com" document that's been languishing online since the Summer of 2003. You can read this document here but you'll probably find most of it boring (unless you're a true Netslaves freak).

I was chuckling about the section I wrote about Gilly. Here it is:

JANUARY 1999: STEVE GILLIARD EMERGES

Steve Gilliard's arrival on the Netslaves List in January of 1999 portended a different brand of change for the site's stream of text. Robin Miller might have been the wise old uncle in the trailer, but Gilliard represented a new, hitherto unseen urban breed of tough-typing, take-no-shit tech journalists inspired by such editorial firebrands as Jimmy Breslin and Murray Kempton.

A Harlem denizen whose DIY ethos and low toleration for being lied to had already made him enemies on New York's influential World Wide Web Artists' Consortium Mailing List, Steve Gilliard would soon become Netslaves.com's most prolific writer. He would also figure prominently in the most critical, traumatic moments the site would experience in the next few years - especially in 2002. The tone Gilliard set - the voice of a man who had seen it all and who plainly had had enough of it, would significantly influence the site's sharp-edged tone in its first year of operation. It would also frequently antagonize people who felt - rightly or wrongly - that he had a particular personal animus against them.

Here is a classic example of a Gilliard-ism directed toward Micheal Wolff - the author of 'Burn Rate' - that appeared on the List in January of 1999:

Well, I can discount the asshole factor as well. But, he's both wrong and an asshole. Around NY, his book, Burn Rate, is widely regarded as fiction. I don't know anyone who takes him seriously in NY. David Futrelle, Austin Bunn, and a number of people I've interviewed for an article on Wolff, have absolutely no respect for his opinions.

He's little better than John Scully. A failed manager selling his expertise.


Gilliard minced no words, suffered no fools, nor did he give an inch when challenged. While others were sleeping, or watching TV, or trying to forget about the scandal-ridden inequity of the New Economy, he was up. Often, like Miller, his responses to queries were borderline brusque one-liners that made your brain bristle with what certainly appeared to be arrogance. He painted a picture of himself as a guy you didn't want to cross - on a list such as http://www.wwwac.org/ [site], on a Web site, or presumably, on East 118th Street. If he didn't like what you had to say, he'd one-line it, and throw it back in your face - a brusqueness that some find hard to take. In person, offline, in public, it was another matter. Gentle, circumspect, more nuanced and more forgiving than any amount of text-parsing of his online toughness would ever indicate.

On the NS List, poised, at any hour of the day or night, to strike at anything that set off his bullshit alarm, Gilliard was fierce, hyperactive and dug deep enough to bring forward something from the vast data pit of the Web good to resonate with the peculiar space the community was in.

Gilliard was the best that Netslaves had - a tiger who wanted, more deeply than anybody the authors had so far encountered - to do journalism online - with a vengeance. He was also one of those people who seemed to never sleep (Baldwin, who had lived in East Harlem during the early 1990's, speculated that the reason that he was online so much was to escape from the streets, which rolled up at night in that part of the world, making any physical move into RL a potentially deadly experience).

There was a mystique about him that you couldn't really beat. When UrbanExpose's John Lee stepped from behind the shadows, Gilliard knew exactly who he was. He was relentless, omnipresent, like, as Lessard would describe him, 'an angry Burt Lancaster'.

Regardless of the cause underlying his restless, hyperactive online behavior, Gilliard's emergence brought with it a broadening of the site's content beyond the close world of the back-office into the far more frightening world of military history, sports issues, and sex - a subject that Gilliard was as willing to broach as Robin Miller. He had learned his online ettiquete late, from mailing lists, USENET, and on his own. The authors - older, steeped in outmoded, Compuserve and Prodigy-era administration rules - sometimes could not understand it. But they tolerated it, because Gilliard was, from the very beginning of the NS List, the mainspring of discussion. He was there - all the time - and he kept the posts flowing.

By March of 1999, discussions on the list had trashed (or at least violently deconstructed) Jeff Bezos, Joe Firmage, Candace Carpenter, Bill Gates, Eric Raymond, Richard Stallman, and Michael Wolff. Popular conversational topics included worker discontent at Amazon.com, volunteer discontent at AOL, and Other, more peaceful threads discussed movies, music, and books. Polls included 'Are You a Slob?', 'Your Longest Day, 'Your Shortest Job', and 'The Worst Part of Your Day'.

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New York Times Obituary: Steve Gilliard

The New York Times posted an obituary for Steve Gilliard on its Web site; this notice also appeared in the Times' print edition. A few days ago, I suggested that the mainstream media would completely ignore Steve's passing; I am very glad that I was completely wrong about this.

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June 05, 2007

Donations for Steve Gilliard's Funeral

Steve Gilliard wrote his heart out for the Web but never made a lot of money. There will be a service for him in Harlem this week and funerals are expensive. If you want to donate to his funeral fund, please visit his Website and click on the PayPal icon. All monies go directly to his family.

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Steve Gilliard May Be Deleted From Wikipedia.org


This one just makes me sad. Steve Gilliard's Wikipedia entry is being considered for deletion. His detractors insist that because he wrote for the Web, he isn't noteworthy enough to remain there.

Fear not, Steve, wherever you are. Your memory will live on here and on other sites whose admins know who you were. Those Wikipedia weenies can go to Hell.

(Update 6/5/07 5:48 PM EST: The "subject to deletion" notice has been removed from Steve's entry. Thanks to the Wikipedia gatekeepers for letting sanity prevail).

More on Steve Gilliard, including my memories of him and a list of articles he wrote for Netslaves.com, here.

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June 03, 2007

Remembering Steve Gilliard (1964-2007), a "Web Writer and Damn' Proud of It"

Steve Gilliard, 1996-2007
Steve Gilliard at the Netslaves 2.0 launch party, February 2003. Photo by Teri Baldwin.

The mainstream world of media has never taken Bloggers seriously, and I very much doubt that they'll take the news of the death of Steve Gilliard, at the very young age of 41, as anything more than a transitory blip on their antiquated radar screens.

I had a chance to work closely with Steve for several years back in the late 1990s and early 00s. Myself and Bill Lessard had hatched an unlikely plan for a Web property called Netslaves.com. At the beginning we wrote all the content ourselves, but began opening up the doors to our readers, and then, to voices that we believed echoed our main concerns at the time, which can be summed up in the statement "something's rotten in Silicon Alley." This kind of statement was heresy in 1998: everybody was getting rich and the "Long Boom" future seemed infinite.

Steve was the first writer to come forward as a regular contributor to Netslaves. He wrote for the site brilliantly and prolifically from 1998 until 2003, when the site closed. His heroes were Edward R. Murrow, Jimmy Breslin, and George Patton. His prose was terse, direct, and in-your-face. He was an iconoclast who did not suffer fools lightly. His words brimmed with fire and anger: he, perhaps better than any of us, could see where the maniacal boom was heading, and he had zero tolerance for bullshit or evasion.

Steve was also an amazing financial analyst, and his series, "How to Read a 10Q," was one of the most popular regular features on Netslaves.com. Every week or so during the height of the shake-out, Steve would perform a forensic autopsy on a particularly benighted dot-com, and the results were both horrifying and hilarious (sadly, this material did not survive Netslaves' transition to a BBS in 2003). He could have become rich by proferring such insights to paying customers, but he chose to give them away to the world. I tried to push Steve into writing a book based on the "How to Read a 10Q" series, and he liked the idea, but there just weren't enough resources to push this idea through, although I'll go to my grave believing that such a book would have been a success.

As Netslaves.com morphed from an e-zine to a bulletin board, Steve's role changed. He continued to write for the site, but also became frequently embroiled in flames between members, especially those between two pseudonymous characters named "Uncle Meat" and "Cheopys" who had recently defected from Phil Kaplan's FickedCompany.com. In the Spring of 2003, I went to Rochester for a week and left Steve in charge of the Netslaves boards, and while I was away things spun out of control. Although I can't remember what the issue was, Steve ran out of patience with both Cheopys and Uncle Meat and banned them both from the site, as well as a group of their sympathizers.

I was very angry at Steve for what I believed to be the rash action he took against these two prominent Netslaves community members, and argued vainly with my business partner, Bill, that his actions should be reversed, but Bill sided with Steve, and so the site basically imploded. The investment of many thousands of hours, dollars, and dreams of building a lasting presence on the Web went up in smoke. Within six months, I was living on a $3 a day starvation diet and emptying dumpsters to keep alive, and Bill was waiting tables at a catering hall. It took both of us years to get back into the Web business, and I know that I blamed Steve for being the cause of Netslaves.com's self-destruction for a long time. (For those interested in the sickening blow-by-blow of Netslave.com's demise, read Forgotten Web Celebrities: Netslaves' Steve Baldwin and Bill Lessard).

In retrospect, it's easy to see that it wasn't Steve's fault. Management (myself and Bill) should have just let Steve do what he did best: write, investigate, and think, and left the moderation to others. But Steve did enjoy "mixing it up on the boards," and was a hell of a flame warrior who could "dish it out and take it." It's sad that his best discussions didn't survive the site migration. I know they live on a hard drive somewhere and perhaps they'll reemerge someday. In the meantime, there's a lot of Steve that lives on at The Netslaves Museum and I encourage you to take a look at some of his classic articles about worklife in the New Economy.

In a way, I'm glad that Netslaves.com's implosion happened when it did. After the events of 9/11/2001, it had been impossible to keep the site on target. The entire "New Economy," at least in New York, had been destroyed, everybody was out of work, and consequently there was less and less for Netslaves to talk about. Steve also wanted to write about global issues and Netslaves was too narrowly focused on workplace and tech issues for him to spread his wings and really fly. But fly he did, first to the DailyKos, and then to his own news Blog, which became very popular. At last, Steve was where he belonged: in the upper reaches of the Blogosphere, where he could confront evils far greater than those offered by Silicon Alley.

We didn't talk or e-mail each other much in the past few years, but I continued to read Steve, following his rise from obscurity to new-found influence in the burgeoning liberal Blogosphere. I always found his work exciting, provocative, and on the mark.

Steve really soared in his post-Netslaves.com incarnation as a "Fighting Liberal Blogger," and I'd like to think that Netslaves served as a kind of Blogging Farm Team that had a hand in conditioning his raw talent and eventually producing a legendary home-run hitter. I'm only sorry we weren't able to pay him as much as he deserved, but Bill and myself (who worked on Netslaves without a salary) rarely had a spare nickle to spend on anything, and I'm glad that we did pay him whatever we could whenever there was money in the till. I am very glad that this latter work received much more exposure among his peers -- the new generation of Bloggers that have risen as a major alternative media force.

Steve and I didn't always agree with each other. In fact, Steve was often a royal pain in my ass. As the editor of the site, I found it maddening that Steve refused to use spell-checking software, and I used to grind my teeth when he went "off topic" or "off message" or took a position that I considered to be extreme. And my jaw repeatedly dropped when Steve introduced himself at conferences or in his bio as "The Editor of Netslaves.com." What was I, a potted plant?

So Steve and I had our "issues" but that's always the case when you work with real talent. Steve was a rare, independent mind with a fierce, uncompromising soul, and that's why we hired him. If we had wanted pap or tripe, we'd have hired somebody else. He had heart, soul, brains, and the kind of drive you rarely find in a writer today. I will always remember him fondly. In 2000 and 2001, Steve became Netslaves.com's most powerful, articulate voice, and I'm glad to say that much of thie early, formative work is preserved at the Netslaves Archive.

I am proud to have known Steve and his companion and co-author Jen during their formative years as Web voices. I hope that the rest of the Blogging community, even those who are not Left-wing, appreciates his contribution to the Web. He was a pioneer, a truth-teller, and in person, a very nice guy. Steve inspired me in my own work and I know that he inspired others, and this energy will not be lost, but will continue to flow through all of our connected synapses and joined hearts. He was "a Web Writer and Damned proud of it," and to me and a lot of people like me, this epitaph means something.

Rest in peace, my fellow teammate, Web Writer, and brother Steve.

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Surviving Steve Gilliard Articles at the Netslaves Museum
I wish I could share with you all the great articles Steve Gilliard wrote for Netslaves, but many of them were lost when the site migrated to a BBS format in early 2002. Fortunately, I was able to save many of Steve's early works, and this list comprises his contributions from June of 2000 to February of 2001. These articles are arranged chronologically, because Steve often wrote multi-part articles. These articles capture Steve in fine form, and highlight an aspect of his character that many may have missed from his postings on DailyKos and elsewhere: the fact that he had pretty good "geek" credentials (check out his story on building his own PC from scratch), and that he had a softer, introspective side (Winter Wonderland). He also had an absolutely wicked sense of humor, which came into play whenever he confronted and skewered the many clueless miscreants of Web 1.0.

These articles come in three groups: those articles written for The Netslaves Combat Manual, Steve's "Between the Lies" column, and articles once the site gradated to an automated posting system that also allowed comments. They show the evolution of Steve's writing, and provide a hint of the greater glories to come when he left Netslaves.com and staked his claim in the larger Blogosphere.

Steve Gilliard-authored articles written for "The Netslaves Combat Manual."

These are the earliest articles Steve wrote for the site, and they were contributed before the site allowed for commenting.

Steve Gilliard's "Between the Lies" Series Written for Netslaves.com

After adding much to the Netslaves Combat Manual, Steve was given his own regular column, which he called "Between the Lies."

Steve's Articles for Netslaves' "General Topic" section, March 2000 - February 2001
These articles include comments from Netslaves users.

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June 04, 2005

Forgotten Web Celebrities: Netslaves' Steve Baldwin and Bill Lessard

The Web 1.0 Golden Era (1995-2000) may have had its share of bird-brained ideas, but none more ridiculous than Netslaves.com, a preposterously grandiose attempt to document the lives of dotcom workers that most people barely remember today.

Unlike many dotcoms, which were launched with great hopes for the future, Netslaves.com was a final act of desperation on the part of its authors, Steve Baldwin and Bill Lessard, who had recently had their book proposal turned down by several prominent New York book agents. "This would make a fine magazine article," said one, "but it's not a book." Cyberpundit Michael Wolff said it even better: "cute idea, but you'll never make any money from it."

Oblivious to such sagacious advice, the authors launched the site in October of 1998, and when a couple of screwy online magazines linked to it, they convinced an agent who should have known better that the project had "buzz." Within two weeks, they had a book deal - proof that the Web's power, at least in the year 1998, had the power to cloud otherwise sane peoples' mind.

Once the writing of the book was behind them, the authors began expanding the threadbare content on Netslaves.com, most notably by hiring Steve Gilliard, who years later would rise to enormous fame as one of the Web's most renowned political bloggers, to write for the site.

For a while, everything worked, because Gilliard's logomaniacal articles kept Netslaves.com's content fresh, plus the fact that there were enough angry IT workers to provide a continuous stream of content. New features, some funny, some embarrassingly sophomoric, were added to the site with dizzying speed. At some point along the line, a "comment on this" feature was added to each article on Netslaves.com, which transformed what had been a quiet little electronic e-zine into what at times seemed to be a boiling pit of hair-pulling rage and brooding cyber-despair.

The authors would have been well-advised to keep Netslaves.com the way it was. Steve Gilliard's razor-tipped posts succeeded in pissing just about everybody in Silicon Alley off, which generated great traffic but caused Baldwin and Lessard to become instant industry pariahs, destroying their chances of finding anyone to pay them for their writing. Still, the period of 2000-2001, when Gilliard wrote for Netslaves on a daily basis, was its high point.

Unfortunately, in 2000, just as the dotcom bubble began to collapse, a site called FeckedCompany.com was launched which was much better at revealing the white-hot rage of investors and dotcom workers than Netslaves.com was ever designed to do. Overnight, whatever marginal Web celebrity status Baldwin and Lessard once enjoyed evaporated when Phil Kaplan, who ran FeckedCompany.com, was anointed the avatar of Web-based negativity by the mainstream media.

Enraged, envious, oblivious, the authors attempted to fight back against FeckedCompany.com by launching a bulletin board of their own and merging with a low-rent dotcom gossip site called DotcomScoop.com. But the game was over before it began, because Phil Kaplan would simply mobilize his thousands of anonymous minions to mob the Netslaves board, post porn, spam, and otherwise "troll" it whenever it suited him, which was most of the time. Once someone from FC (and we'll never know who it was) hacked into the site, jamming it completely. If we'd been contentious, we'd have sued, but who? Phil Kaplan wasn't a saint, but he had his nose to the ground and we were all on the same side, ultimately, in the way that's conveyed at a funeral.

Defeated, but too pigheaded to simply give up, the authors tried one more ploy: they attempted to poach FuckedCompany.com's best writers, who were clearly unhappy with the purile, juvenile prose written by 95 percent of the people who posted there. This strategy seemed to work, especially after Cheopys and Uncle Meat, two of FuckedCompany's most erudite posters, decided to take up residence on Netslaves.com in late 2001.

For about four months, Netslaves.com was actually winning its pointless war with FuckedCompany.com, but then, in June of 2002, the corruscating online flame wars between Uncle Meat and Cheopys grew to such an intensity that Steve Gilliard, who, ill-advisedly, had been granted the power to ban people from the bulletin board who pissed him off, banned Cheopys for the rest of his natural life.

Baldwin pleaded with Gilliard to let Cheopys stay, but Gilliard would not relent, nor would Lessard support Baldwin in his efforts to restore Cheopys' membership. Within a very short time, so many users had defected in sympathy that Netslaves.com soon found itself empty of anything resembling robust authentic discourse, and while the site limped on for another year, it was never the same, and closed in June of 2003.*

There are several lessons in the sordid saga of Netslaves.com which aspiring Web proprietors would do well to study. First among these is this: if you're running an e-zine and it's working, experiment with commenting carefully, because it can completely screw up your editorial mission. If you do make the fateful decision to add a bulletin board to your site, be very careful about who you give administration rights to, because your best blogger might just turn out to be the Sysop from Hell, and once the damage is done, it's likely to be irreparable. Finally, do not ever let the notion that you are popular and powerful enter your mind, for pride always goes before a fall, and once you've fallen, nobody on the Web will ever let you forget it.

* Note 06/07/05: I have received e-mail from a former user of Netslaves.com who wishes to take issue with me over this statement. In his view, there was actually a "content renaissance" which took place after Cheopys was exiled in June of 2002 which, had the authors' correctly perceived its importance, might have led to a much happier outcome. I will leave the sentence as I first wrote it, but agree that the statement "Netslaves.com soon found itself empty of anything resembling robust authentic discourse" was probably overstated, and erred by overlooking the contributions of users such as the correspondent, who did engage in such discourse. Unfortunately, no data was preserved from this period of the site's operations (even by the Internet Archive), making it far too easy to overlook these contributions.

Which leads to another interesting lesson: if you want your words to survive your site's destruction, don't use ASP to power your Bulletin Board - Archive.org just won't archive it!

Update: 06/08/05

Another former NS member offers an insightful message that adds much to the historical record:

I would like to add my $.02 about the Netslaves demise: I always thought that the downfall was due to the content straying from tech issues to political issues. I lost interest in the site when the articles turned into "Why can't Liberals tell the truth," followed by "Why can't conservatives tell the truth." I personally don't find such writing on a tech site to be at all interesting. Also, when sites stray into the political, Hiroshima-style firefights inevitably follow, as they did on Netslaves. After that happened, RIP Netslaves.

I still miss Netslaves. I haven't found another site that tackles tech and lifestyle issues in the same way. The article on Match.com that appears in the archived snippet recently posted on Ghostsites is a good example. I also found the reporting on bogus employment agencies that appeared at the tail end of the Netslaves run to be excellent. I agree that there was a content resurgence on the site during its last months.

One note: I think a lot of people found out about your site via its mention in the ultimate house organ for dot-com self-aggrandizement: Fast Company Magazine.

I found your comments about Pud to be interesting. Feckedcompany.com was interesting for its first year or so, but since then has been a sewer of racism, homophobia, immigrant-bashing, and even support for terrorists. Has anyone ever explored who the source of this crap is? Is it Kaplan himself? I wish we still had Netslaves around to explore issues like that. I might even write that article myself if I had an outlet for it.

(name omitted to save him from assault by the Spam Spiders)

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