Saturday, May 20, 2006

Pajamas Media Redux?

I've been poking around. Those who follow the so-called "blogosphere" talk about last year's disaster when a would-be blog-publishing empire casually known as Pajamas Media went pro with a new name, Open Source Media.

The name belonged to another Web business.

A public relations nightmare followed, but eventually Pajamas Media semi-honorably went back to its original catchy name, albeit with a bathrobe as its logo. (More recently, the operation has replaced the bathrobe logo with a pajamas logo.)

And so we wonder today, here at Battelle Watch World Headquarters, why is it that "Federated Media" is actually the name of another established media company that has been around for quite some time?

Now, we aren't bigshot venture-capitalist sponges like Mr. Battelle, but we're still a little shocked that his new media company would so brazenly steal the name of a media company that has been around for three decades.

This "selling little ads on web logs" may be an exciting new gamble, but we're wondering if the real Federated Media people -- who apparently own many radio stations like this one -- are charmed by some San Francisco Bay Area upstarts just stealing their name.

Is that how the whole Web 2.0 works? You just ignore "Earth 1.0" and do whatever you want?

Interesting.

And typical.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The mark of a bubble

Here's why Nigerian spam-scams work:
Robert B. Reich, the former Labor Secretary, who has studied the psychology of market behavior, says, “American culture is uniquely prone to the ‘too good to miss’ fallacy. ‘Opportunity’ is our favorite word. What may seem reckless and feckless and hapless to people in many parts of the world seems a justifiable risk to Americans.” But appetite for risk is only part of it. A mark must be willing to pursue a fortune of questionable origin. The mind-set was best explained by the linguist David W. Maurer in his classic 1940 book, “The Big Con”: “As the lust for large and easy profits is fanned into a hot flame, the mark puts all his scruples behind him. He closes out his bank account, liquidates his property, borrows from his friends, embezzles from his employer or his clients. In the mad frenzy of cheating someone else, he is unaware of the fact that he is the real victim, carefully selected and fatted for the kill. Thus arises the trite but none the less sage maxim: ‘You can’t cheat an honest man.’"
And don't forget that "an enduring trait of Nigerian letter scammers—indeed, of most con artists—is their reluctance to walk away from a mark before his resources are exhausted."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Shuck 'n Jive

After the house of cards known as John Battelle's "Industry Standard" magazine collapsed, you can guess who didn't show up at bankruptcy court to see who would buy his wreckage for pennies on the dollar.

Many of us did show up, because we didn't exactly have a lot of other things to do that week.

I found an interesting account of that day, as part of a generally compelling article by a former editor of the magazine.

The write-up is by Todd Wooley (cheers, mate!) in the Colombia Journalism Review:
The opportunity to do such work, free of corporate penny-pinching and with a minimum of newsroom politics, had begun to attract reporters and editors from The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and The Washington Post. Of course, the generous salaries were no small lure. As the good times rolled on, management bestowed such dot-com goodies as massages, gym memberships, and subsidized childcare. In this new California Gold Rush, it was not out of place to return to the office from a day of reporting, get a massage, and walk into the newsroom to find the editor-in-chief handing out four-figure bonus checks to celebrate a profitable quarter. Reporters, myself included, grew accustomed to jetting around the country, staying at hip hotels, and dining at chi-chi restaurants. If we ourselves weren't awash in dot-com millions, our reporting life-style offered a reasonable facsimile. "You don't know how good you have it," James Fallows, the Atlantic correspondent and Standard columnist, told us in wry understatement as we sipped a fine California Merlot at a January 2000 editorial-retreat-ski-holiday in Lake Tahoe.

But there was one perk I wish we had never received: stock options. The thud of those packets of potential riches landing on our desks was, in my opinion, the death knell of the magazine. Like the companies we covered, the Standard wanted to turn its cachet into IPO cash. That strategy would dictate an unsustainable spending spree to position the Standard as a diversified global "information services" company. If you wanted to justify a double-digit share price, simply publishing a profitable magazine wasn't going to cut it.

Yes. And how familiar that nightmare scenario sounds today.

You see, young Mr. Battelle's latest operation is also built on an IPO or buyout House of Cards.

Little birds who have examined his Federated Media contracts tell me that there's a prominent provision for buyout -- those websites that commit to Battelle's latest folly will get some kind of reward "when" he sells off the pretend company. Very interesting.

Or, I should say, "Bubble 2.0"?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Woodward and Bernstein 2.0

You may recall that our beloved leader went through several failed trade-show businesses after the Industry Standard debacle and before miraculously getting a book deal to get tough and uncover what was going on at Google.

But remember, our beloved hero is John Battelle. So that book was instead an ass-kissing piece of propaganda of such blatant Google worship that Google itself bought thousands of copies to hand out to its own employees.

Google's court scribe now breathlessly reports on Google's Press Day. It's like Easter and the Gold Rush combined. And Battelle has kindly taken the time to explain just how great Google is, again, because that's just the kind of guy he is.

Vintage Computing Festival

It would be nice to see John Battelle at one of these "vintage computing festivals," preferably locked inside an ancient Kaypro, from which he can sputter 1997 business slogans without hurting anybody else.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

So what's that 'better boom'?

This is how I got pulled back to Battelle's shitty world:

It's November of last year. I'm at a coffee place on the East Coast, reading the New York Times and eating some sugar-filled cake with my coffee.

I'm bored with the news, so I flip to the end of the front section. They call it the "op-ed" section because .... I don't remember. Opinions and Editorials?

Anyway, there's Battelle. We hardly knew ye.

He writes this thing for the New York Times about how, after all, the tech companies were right all along, about everything. Oh, also, he learned about a new world called "blogging."

John Battelle had found yet another thing he didn't understand. But with his rolodex and other people's money, he might just be able to wreck this business, too.

I e-mailed the op-ed to ___________, who still lives in Los Gatos in a house that's now worth approximately a billion dollars, and he called me back immediately.

"He has absolutely no shame," ___________ said. "You realize the Times is part-owner of his new business, right?"

Incredible. I e-mailed about a half-dozen editors at the newspaper, including somebody known as the "reader's advocate" or something. Nobody replied. I repeated the process, and even tried to get this "reader's advocate" on the phone. No luck.

And to this day nobody ever replied. My letter didn't appear in the letters section.

Later, eventually, and without ever acknowledging my complaint, the New York Times appended that column by Battelle:

Editors' Note: Nov. 29, 2005, Tuesday:

An Op-Ed article on Nov. 18 about the future of Internet companies should have included additional information about the author, John Battelle. The New York Times Company has made an investment of no more than 5 percent in Mr. Battelle's company, Federated Media Publishing.

'Building a better boom'

Most likely, you've been in love and had your heart stomped. It happens. Life's rich pageant, etc.

But it's a different kind of affair when someone lures you away from a comfortable job and decent living because you are worth millions!

John Battelle actually said things like that. He hired people away from all sorts of safe jobs in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. They were worker bees, not Steve Jobs. They wouldn't be selling patents for a million dollars or getting bought out by AOL. They were just people who wrote articles about tech businesses.

And John Battelle told them they were some kind of special.

Just like he tells these web-loggers that they are something extra special, and only he can be trusted to make them millionaires.

As a former Battelle hireling, I can tell you that ... well, you can figure it out for yourself. A fancy party does NOT equal somebody looking out for you.

Getting a few big paychecks doesn't equal you making a decent living. Trust an old dude who got dumped in Battelle's septic tank.

Where John Battelle walks, good things wither and die. He is a scam artist, and I personally know (or knew, sorry) about a hundred people who had their lives ruined by that pompous jackass.

Oh, and he doesn't know anything about that Internet he loves to talk about. There is a very nice guy who wrote a Silicon Valley column for a paper for a long time who can tell you some embarrassingly funny stories about Battelle trying to "keep up" with a certain young CTO who posted the whole incident on The Well afterwards.

I don't mean to talk in code. But you who were there will be able to fill in the details.

(To not be a hypocrite, I've opened comments on this web log to one and all, without registration. Say your piece and maybe we'll be just a little bit better off.)

Monday, May 08, 2006

$20,000 rooftop parties

A party is fun, sometimes even if it's a work party.

The Industry Standard had parties.

For people who had spent their life working for regular newspapers or tech magazines and were quite used to paying $3 for a beer at some lackluster event, the Battelle parties were a shock -- almost as big a shock as our very short-lived huge salaries.

Battelle would tell people we were about to be a "billion-dollar company" and the "Dow Jones of the 21st century."

Of course, that's stupid and vainglorious -- or, I should say, that's Battelle. John Battelle was the biggest phoney of the entire dot-com collapse. He hurt a lot of people, and he was never punished. He pretty much ruined my life, but that's a story for another day. That's a story as common as fog in San Francisco.

What's crucial right now is that people avoid him at all costs. When John Battelle comes sniffing around the toilets, it's all over. Your hopes have died. Your careers are finished.

(Side note: On the day we all got fired, I was walking to my car with this pleasant young woman who had been at the magazine exactly three days. She was crying, but laughing. A lot of us were. But she was lucky; she didn't have a family waiting for her paycheck, or an appalling mortgage payment. She just had that very brief experience of having a bright future. "I've never made this much," she said. And then she got in her ratty old Ford Escort and drove away.)

So when I later found out those final rooftop booze extravaganzas weren't even paid for, I had something to laugh about again.

Sure, I couldn't make my own house payment, but John Battelle owed hundreds of thousands of dollars for his stupid parties with their Absolut bars and sushi platters.

Surely he would suffer for what he had wrought. Surely he wouldn't re-emerge nearly a decade later to dump his dumb schemes on yet another Internet generation ....

Friday, May 05, 2006

Bubbling sewage of the Past

I don't want to bore you with the rotten misery of my private life since it got annihilated by the putrid rays of the John Battelle Experience, some eight years ago.

But I have to explain a little bit, otherwise this blogger.com site will never make any sense to the three or four of you who might stumble across it someday.

After getting thoroughly screwed during the collapse of the "Industry Standard" boondoggle, I made a conscious effort to get far away from the incestuous cesspool of Silicon Valley.

It is not a rare story in the valley. One day I was so fucking rich I could almost afford a house. The next day, I was watching Battelle on the PBS News Hour explaining how it was really a good thing how hundreds of us got destroyed by his lies and graft.

More later. This crap really makes me feel worse. I'm not proud. I took unemployment as long as I could get it. I tried (and mostly failed) to keep my family from drowning in the deluge. I tried to forget that miserable cocksucker John Battelle ever existed.

But ... Jesus Christ, he's really back. My personal Destroyer of Worlds. Ready to destroy other worlds I've just learned even exist.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Battelle Day

It might not be quite as famous as September 11, 2001, but just a few weeks before (on August 20) John Battelle had his own little massacre at the Industry Standard.

That was a now-forgotten magazine about how John Battelle and his networking partners were really great, and how there would never be any problems again because he had met many people who knew about technology.

After he had about 180 people fired, he went on the PBS news show and said this:

JOHN BATTELLE: Well, when you have a situation like this... I think over the past four years we've built a significant asset, and certainly there has been an outpouring of both support and interest in, you know, some form of continuance. But we decided that we needed to suspend publication in order to both sort through those opportunities as well as, you know, conserve the ability of the assets to possibly be sold to somebody.