"A Cultural Event For Silicon Valley and Wall Street!"

Back in May, I wrote in a friends-only post:

I got mail from some guy from Fortune writing yet another article about Netscape, this one "pegged to the upcoming 10th anniversary of the IPO." So I said,

See, if you had said just about any other anniversary, I might have been interested, but by picking that one, I think you've just told me that your article is about "gosh, look at the rich people" instead of being about what we accomplished.

To which he said,

Think what you will, but you're dead wrong about my focus. The IPO was a cultural event for Silicon Valley and Wall Street, and as such its a milestone and marker for all that followed. By re-visiting the Netscape story 10 years after it exploded onto the consciousness of the general public, I'm very much focused on all Netscape accomplished, as well as what other people accomplished because of Netscape.

I read that as: another article glorifying the fiscal feeding frenzy of people who have never actually created something in their lives. More nostalgia for "the bubble". Awesome.

I guess when you're writing a paean to greed, you probably don't realize you're doing it, because you're so entrenched in that culture that you can't tell that you're a part of the problem.

I don't usually blow people off when they ask for interviews and stuff, because somehow I keep thinking that maybe this time my input will make their output be less nonsensical. Or maybe just because I like hearing myself talk. Whichever, this one really rubs me the wrong way.

So I blew him off. Well, the article is out now, and I see my instinct was exactly correct: it's not accomplishments or culture or technology, it's just about price tags.

And to this day, every time I read Mike Homer's name my stomach clenches up.

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34 Responses:

  1. Not to mention the seeming nostalgia for exploitation. I think that by framing the article as a "people's history" the author attempts to suggest that he has no influence over the portrayal of that history which is quite untrue.

  2. adriang says:

    The article also suggested, on the first page, that Netscape launched the open source movement. I just couldn't make myself read past that point.


  3. fo0bar says:

    I can't help but notice that fortune.com has a Netscape favicon.ico.

    Oh, the ironing!

  4. dougo says:

    So when is your tell-all book coming out?

    • jwz says:

      Fuck that.

      Between Quittner's book "Speeding the Net" and the PBS "Code Rush" documentary, I think the moment has been adequately captured.

      • No, he means telling the world more how much you hate it.

        I mean, Warren Ellis seems to be doing well... ;-)

        • I can just picture the title:

          "Well That Sucked, And I'm Not Doing It Again"

          • remaker says:

            Now THAT is a great book title. I surely think that a paper book can be easily culled from jwz.org and this journal.

            Other Possible titles.

            "And Now I Sell Beer: Reflections on Being an Web Revolutionary."

            "You're All Stupid and I Hate You: Trying to be excellent in a mediocre workplace."

            "I Changed The World And All I Got Was Hip-Hop And House Music."

            "There is No Limit To The Madness"

      • flipzagging says:

        Maybe there should be a history of the web that focuses on creativity. Ideas ping-ponging from person to person. I don't think I've ever read that.

        Already, most people think of the World Wide Web as something that was invented to get IPO cash. Except for the really clever researchers, who will instead point to Eric S. Raymond's libertarian babblings.

        • When I think of the web starting I think of City TV's totally bad-ass MediaTelevision interviewing people at Wired. Also, the first time I ever saw a URL on mainstream television was for March Madness, of all things.

      • wilecoyote says:

        So those are the two works that you'd "use and endorse" for those who want to learn more about those times?

        (Back then I followed what was going on by reading "Wired". And I actually believed what they wrote in it [shudder]).

  5. mackys says:

    I couldn't help but engage in some gratuitous fanboyism when I read the article. I apologize.

    I do have a question for you though, somewhat tangentially related. Do you have any thoughts on Firefox? Do you like it? Use it? I haven't seen any commentary about it. If I missed what you said about it, please throw a hyperlink at me and tell me to piss off.

    Since Firefox came from Mozilla, I guess in some way I kinda feel like it's a little bit of your legacy from ages past - though the idea may make you gag. In any event, thank you for doing what you did at Netscape when you did it. Maybe it was all futile. Maybe it wasn't worth the effort. Maybe you look back on the whole experience with screaming black hatred. But I think the shit you and the rest of the NSCP dorm crew was damn cool. Thanks for building the World Wide Waste of time. My right hand thanks you. ;]

    • jwz says:

      I used to use Firefox, but now I use Safari. It seems faster and somewhat better integrated, and gets more regular updates. They seem mostly equivalent, though.

      I'd be surprised if there was a single line of my code left in Firefox. Maybe some of the MIME or mbox stuff in Thunderbird, but probably not. It's hard to tell, because at some point in the past, someone stripped out almost every comment that had my name in it. I think a lot of that happened during gratuitous "C to C++" conversions.

  6. sweh says:

    In the early 90s (in the UK) I really thought the internet wouldn't be that big. Everyone using slow modems and spending a fortune in phone bills online (UK phone charges were per-minute) or (at best) using offline readers or UUCP; text based programs (gopher, archie, ftp)... surely something only a geek like me would like. It'd never take off!

    In 1995 I joined MatriX Publishing Network (an internet publishing startup division of VNU Business Publications) where I found Mosaic, HotJava, Netscape Navigator... wow! When Java was integrated into Netscape I was on the cutting edge and wrote the first commercial applet in the UK (for the launch of the SciFi channel over there!). Fun times, but I still didn't think it'd be that big because of long download times.

    Broadband internet was the big change. Nowadays everyone and their dog is on the net. My 60+ year old parents have email!

    Netscape helped defined tools and methods of access, but without the speed increases I feel the 'net would still have been a niche market, dependent mainly on text. Speed allowed rich media which improved the user experience, which made the internet so big.

    • cowbutt says:

      ...the /big/ change was the GUIfied client that Ordinary People could use. Maybe jointly with the search engine. Oh, and a proliferation of easily-findable pr0n, of course. Before that, it was Berkley ftp, archie, ircII, telnet, tin and gopher.

      I started uni in the autumn of 1992 and came back after the first term proclaiming the virtues of the Internet to my unconnected geek friends. I even kinda foresaw the whole P2P/everyone's-got-a-printing-press-now meme.

      The bandwidth issue you pick on is a non-issue; bandwidth always gets better over time (my University's Internet connection was 256kbit/s in the early days - half the speed of a current basic UK DSL line, and it was shared by a few thousand people rather than for individual/household use. Some UK universities only had 9600bit/s lines even in 1992!). Also, my dad is still happy with my hand-me-down V.90 56k modem; he doesn't want to pay 10-15 pcm just for email and a bit of surfing.

      Sadly, even with the technology we have, it seems most people just want free music and movies, pr0n and TV.

  7. deeptape says:

    Mike Homer


  8. silveryblu says:

    I feel dirty from reading that article, in places that were nowhere near the monitor.

    Ew. Ew.

  9. jonxp says:

    I recommend Pepto Bismol for that stomach clenching thing. Or one of those weird stomach removal surgeries.

  10. jesus_x says:

    Forbes is THE magazine of the financentric egotists. It's the magazine where the money shot has REAL MONEY. It's the Playboy of financial mags (Money swould be the Hustler, more blatant and less pretentious). The centerfold is of next year's hot currency. If you want to find an interview about the technologies and accomplishments, you're going to have to wait for a magazine or stie without a monetary focus. You were dead right in blowing them off.

    • jwz says:

      The thing that amazes me, though, is that you know that, and I know that, but the guy writing the article (claimed he) didn't know that. I'm just impressed by the differing perspective here: he might actually think that he didn't write money-porn.

      • If you want to see yourself some hardcore money porn, there's a rag called Trader Monthly. Motto: "See it, make it, spend it". We have a copy lying around the office. It's a serious wank-fest.

        It isn't even about ways to make money. It's about all the sexy cool things to do with the money. Every cover has a buff young man in a business suit, with a hot chick hanging off his arm, either on a motorcycle, or in front of a jet, or next to a luxury car... you get the idea.

        Did I mention I'm quitting this job? Just have to train my replacement. He starts Monday.

  11. violentbloom says:

    so I had yet more respect for my new boss when I learned what he thinks of mike homer. I had to tell him the story where he gets trapped and can't get past the camo net when trying to corner me about whatever crap issue he had that day. It's always good for a chuckle.

    • violentbloom says:

      um is there something I don't know about eb?
      'Bina: The day that we went public I was not there. My daughter was due to be born. [But] oh, yes, they did make me rich. That's why I can comfortably be a stay-at-home dad. I left Netscape when AOL bought the business, and quit programming cold turkey. I'm very big into gardening. I got into rose breeding."
      Rufus looks very unlike a small child. Perhaps I'm confused.
      So is that just a complete misquote or what?

  12. johnreen says:

    You know... I read this entire article (LINKED FROM /dork!!11!), waiting for a quotation from you that never came.

    I then (ironically) read LiveJournal and saw this.

    <Aqua Teen Hunger Force>Priceless, Er</athf>.

    It was an interesting read though, especially for someone who had a fleeting )and distorted) view of it. I worked at Netscape for a summer out of high school (and was, for a brief moment, the company's youngest contributor).

    I remember wanting to meet you, because your name was so prevalent internally and externally within the company. It finally happened after some lame robot-bashing event in SF one evening.

    I mostly sat there, eating an overpriced hamburger, not knowing what to say.

    I gotta say, though... in my older age, with not all that much more wisdom... I prefer you as a normal human being... you know, just some guy who ended up being mostly disgusted with it all, forced to listen to echoes (like this "money-porn") of people who Just. Don't Get. why you even ever got involved.

    It's both tragic and amusing at the same time. Fun for the whole family.

  13. phreddiva says:

    I think I've told you this before, but I was working for a brokerage firm when Netscape went public. That was, of course, nuts.

    I didn't realize it went public on Ben's birthday... I had known him for two years at the time & we celebrated Jerry's death by breakfasting on Haight Street & saying "Jerry who?"

  14. allartburns says:

    But you guys got The Bus Sign! You can't complain about your IPO!

    We, on the other hand, got pegged as the people who "ruined the IPO market" right before eBay and a bunch of other nobody companies all went public.

  15. darkengobot says:

    It's a vaguely interesting story, but it's not that different from any other breakthrough business story. Replace the nerds in cubicles with steam-powered coal carts and the same story can be written about James Watt.

    You know, Fortune wasn't always such a shitty magazine. Hey, I know, Fortune can publish a story about how the IntarWeb turned their raison d'etre into a puddle of stinky poo.

  16. fgmr says:

    Eww, yuck. That was disgusting. As you said, purely "how money was made off of someone's idea," not "how an idea changed the world." I like how he starts out with "the web was this useless thing ..."