my employer can blow me.
© 1998 Jamie Zawinski <jwz@jwz.org>


There was a time when Netscape Communications Corporation valued the creativity of its employees. There was a time when they bragged about it: it was a regular occurrence that press and visitors from other companies would be shown around our offices. To this day, the root of Netscape's employee pages site begins with this seemingly-open-minded statement:

The Netscape work environment fosters creativity, innovation, and fun. Illustrating that point, some Netscape employees have created personal home pages. Just click on the person's name to visit his or her site.

Don't believe the hype.

As most of you probably know, there are a few easter eggs in Netscape Navigator: one of those is the ``about:'' URL, which takes you to certain employee home pages. Since mid-1994, for example, ``about:jwz'' has redirected you to my home page: it is shorthand for the full URL, http://people.netscape.com/jwz/.

Many of us had such URLs. They're jokes, toys, small and harmless, and a way for overly-creative hackers to blow off steam at the end of an 18- or 35-hour workday.

But then on July 31st, 1998, someone at C/NET noticed the about:rmw URL, which went to the home page of Netscape employee Robert Waugh. Robert's page only had one thing on it: a parody of Apple's ``Think Different'' ad campaign. He had taken photos of famous mass murderers (John Wayne Gacy, Ed Gein, Son Of Sam, Andrei Chikatilo, Theodore Bundy, Marshall Applewhite, and Pol Pot) and captioned each of them with an Apple logo and the words ``Think Different.''

You can find a copy of what was once on Robert's page at ftp.barn.com.

The text on C/NET's news.com ``Rumor Mill'' page (a mostly-content-free area where the C/NET authors hide their lack of journalistic skill and fact-checking behind the pseudonym ``Skinny DuBaud'') read as follows:

Meanwhile, the bloatware at Netscape keeps ballooning. With the company's new Communicator 4.5 browser, it seems its code is big and complex enough to be filled with--a Skinny favorite--Easter eggs. This rumor hound has found one: If you've downloaded Communicator 4.5, type in "about:rmw" into the "smart browser." Surfers will be treated to a Charles (and/or Marilyn) Manson interpretation of Apple's cheeky "Think different" campaign.

Story has it that there are many more eggs in Mozilla's basket, including pages created by Netscape employees that can be accessed via the new browser. But an easier way to get to these pages is by clicking here. Without these silly software developers, where would I be?

Yes, ``Skinny'', the story does have it that way. In fact, it's kind of amazing that this is the first time you've heard of this, since these particular easter eggs have been in there for four years now (virtually the entire lifetime of the web) and since any search engine seeded with words like, oh, say, ``Netscape'' and ``easter egg'' will point you at many thousands of documents that tell you all about them.

So this clueless newbie, who happens also to write anonymously for C/NET, published this nonsense, giving many people, among them some folks from the Boston Globe, the impression that the reason that Netscape products are ``bloated'' is that every copy has a photo of Charlie Manson built into it.

Isn't it great that someone writing for a publication both about and on the web can't tell the difference between a program and a web page?

So the Boston Globe called someone at Netscape PR to ask about this.

And the word came down from above: ``Stop the PR disaster! Shut it down!''

Now that's bad enough, but did they just take down Robert's page? No, of course not. They shut them all down. Every URL on http://people.netscape.com/ became a redirect to http://home.netscape.com/, also known as Netscape's impossibly useless ``portal'' site, Netcenter.

Subject:  Employee Home Pages
Date:  1 Aug 98 00:23:48 GMT
From:  mader@netscape.com (Margie Mader)
To:  all

All;

The Employee Home Pages have been temporarily disabled. An external publication became aware of a site that had inappropriate content, and intends to use this in a soon-to-be published article. This will lead to further scrutiny of our existing employee homes pages. Should you have a home page outside or inside the firewall, please use this opportunity to scrub the content in light of our Electronic Facilities & Communications policy. Specifically focus on the Personal Use and Newsgroups and Home Pages sections.

The intent is not to limit nor screen content, rather to ask each of you act responsibly in your subject matter, as the employee home pages are perceived as public documents which reflect upon Netscape.

Thank you,

Margie Mader

It's worth noting that the only real article published regarding this was in the San Jose Mercury News, and that probably would never have been written had Netscape not taken down all the pages and created a Big Incident.

As I write this, it has been four days, and I still don't have a home page. Now granted, two of those days were saturday and sunday. But ask yourself: would you tolerate four days of downtime from your ISP?

Neither would I.

Not that Netscape owes me ISP service; but look again at that blurb about ``fostering creativity'' above. They seemed to place some value on giving the perception that it was a fun, creative environment.

What is most amazing about this is not the event itself, but rather, what it indicates: Netscape has gone from ``hot young world-changing startup'' to Apple levels of unadulterated uselessness in fewer than four years, and with fewer than 3,000 employees.

But I guess Netscape has always done everything faster and bigger. Including burning out.

It's too bad it had to end with a whimper instead of a bang. Netscape used to be something wonderful.

The thing that hurts about this is that I was here when Netscape was just a bunch of creative people working together to make something great. Now it's a faceless corporation like all other faceless corporations, terrified that it might accidentally offend someone. But yes, all big corporations are like that: it's just that I was here to watch this one fall.

Jamie Zawinski, Netscape Employee #20 (disgruntled)


Update: About a month after publishing this page, I got the following email from Margie Mader, which she graciously gave me permission to post here. I hope you get as big a kick out of it as I did!

Subject:  Re: my employer can blow me
Date:  Mon, 31 Aug 1998 13:57:34 -0700
From:  mader@netscape.com (Margie Mader)
To:  jwz

One point of clarification:

the article on the about: easter egg and specifically about:rmw ran in the Boston Globe, was picked up by Business Wire, was subsequently published in the Chron, the Merc and 14 other papers nationwide, including that bastion of republicanism, the Orange County Register, where my mother Judy read it and called me up, leaving a message where she referred to her dearest daughter (me) as an information nazi.

Respectfully,
Margie Mader

Robert apparently came close to getting fired over this incident, but the final result was that he was forced to sign a piece of paper that said that he had been warned not to publish things on the Netscape web site that might put Netscape in a ``bad spot'' again. He signed it, and then a few weeks later, did the honorable thing and resigned.

Margie says she and her mom have patched things up.


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