Freeze! It's the Microsoft Cartoon Police!

When out-of-town friends pay me a visit in Baghdad by the Bay, they inevitably want to go souvenir shopping, guided of course by moi.

3 min read
When out-of-town friends pay me a visit in Baghdad by the Bay, they inevitably want to go souvenir shopping, guided of course by moi. To avoid this excruciating ritual, I've taken to stocking gewgaws in my basement: Golden Gate Bridge paperweights, sourdough-bowl hats, and framed copies of Joe Montana's prenuptial agreement. The next time a Microsoft employee comes a-calling, I'll whip out my latest trinket: a poster of seagulls flying above Alcatraz with the inscription, "If you love something, set it free."

Like a parent who can't let go, the company has placed some rather amusing strictures on its "Microsoft Agent" development tool, used to create animated wizards such as to the lovable Merlin and the bug-eyed paper clip in Office 97. The warm, fuzzy vibe comes bundled, however, with a legal caveat that one is free to animate the cute characters in any way provided that it doesn't disparage Microsoft, "including...uses which could be deemed under applicable law to be obscene or pornographic, uses which are excessively violent, unlawful, or which purpose is to encourage unlawful activities." Talk about your buzz kill! Maybe all those Microsoft parodies are finally beginning to grate.

One buzz that's been hard to kill is circulating around Tripod, the Massachusetts-based online community where members get to create their own Web sites. My intelligent agents whisper of courtiers ringing the bell of young, eligible Tripod CEO Bo Peabody. Guess who's coming to dinner? Well, it ain't Natty Dreadlocks, kid, but considering the fat chunk of change that Yahoo and Softbank recently plowed into Tripod rival GeoCities, it's safe to assume that Yahoo's competitors are thinking along similar lines.

One question: If privately held Tripod gets outside funding, what will that mean for its editorial staff's nutty, twenty-something irony? Remember, those 880,000-plus members have chosen it for various reasons, but the attitude certainly is a part of the appeal. For example, here's a quick poll the Pods ran recently:

"I hate the Dallas Cowboys... a) because they're a bunch of arrogant outlaws; b) because I'm an American, dammit! c) er, I actually like them."

Perhaps the strongest editorial voice in the last ten years has come from Wired founder and now editorial director Louis Rossetto, perhaps more relaxed since Wired's superb fifth anniversary party. In the most recent issue of the New Yorker, Kurt Anderson writes how that voice--and its unrelenting boosterism of the so-called digital revolution--has been a double-edged sword. As Rossetto tells Anderson, "Euphoria is not much of a business strategy." Once the Silicon Valley giddiness recedes, will the ten-year bubble pop, as Anderson suggests?

Enter Tom Watson, cofounder and copublisher of @NY, who recently wrote that the new media scene in New York's Silicon Alley compares favorably with what he called "the creaky formulas of Silicon Valley, where the mind-set often seems like something from the script of Boogie Nights, like the last big orgy of a culture that has already died." Yo, that's a dis worthy of the best West Coast-East Coast rap wars. What's next, the dozens? "Yo mama's so dumb, she thinks having too many windows open makes the computer cold!"

We never got to play "Yo mama" as kids up in the Great White North. We were too busy shoveling snow and connecting our laptops to car batteries when the power went out. You think I'm kidding? It's a bit of a download, but check out my homies Matinternet, a Quebecois site that used the old systeme D--i.e., whatever you can to get the job done--to stay up and running during the ice storm of the century. With your rumors, I can win an Oscar this year; without them, I won't even get a Golden Globe nomination. Email me and I promise to mention you in my acceptance speech before they cut to commercial.