Net kiss-and-tell sure to raise hell

The Net's own remembrance of things (just) past is about to arrive, in the form of NetGuide creator Michael Wolff's Burn Rate, or How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet.

4 min read
Proust, anyone?

As Vermel crashed into the kitchen wearing a ripped Dark City T-shirt and using a South Park paperback to air-guitar a Third Eye Blind song, it hit me like a Velociraptor's tail in the face: V. was about to O.D. on U.S. pop culture. I lunged to the bookshelf, tossed him my battered volume of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, and revealed that both Bjork and Beck recently had cited Proust as an influence. Brows raised, he ceased his energetic Townshending and lugged the tome off to his room. Will he eventually return to say, "Hey, Pop: Swann's way cool?"

In the meantime, the Net's own remembrance of things (just) past is about to arrive, in the form of NetGuide creator Michael Wolff's Burn Rate, or How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet. With review copies now making the rounds, we'll soon be hearing more about this kiss-and-tell bildungsroman of Wolff's life in the new media fast lane. The title is worth a chuckle or two, seeing how the Net has so far generated far more rush than gold and how Wolff's own company didn't exactly survive, but since Net books have a tendency to breathlessly lionize the digerati and the world they inhabit (Architects of the Web and In the Company of Giants come to mind), Wolff's more jaundiced view should be welcomed.

According to advance copies, Wolff dishes serious dirt on several would-be barons, particularly Wired founders Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe, as well as CNET honcho Halsey Minor. Wolff echoes previous accounts of Rossetto as a head-in-the-clouds figure whose organizational skills were quickly outstripped by Wired's increasingly mainstream position: "The awe [at Wired's growth] came from the realization that such transformations are, apparently, possible. Louis could go from lost soul to fearless mogul, Jane from ditziness to great stature in the publishing and advertising industries--all in a year and a half!"

Whoops, shouldn't have done that. The cover of the reviewer's copy clearly states that it is only a draft and that it shouldn't be quoted for publication unless verified with the finished book. Heh heh.

As for Minor, Wolff paints an unflattering picture of the le jeune executif as someone without much use for the printed word, according to our Skinside reviewer. This is not surprising, given that he's developed a company focused on TV and the Web, but that depiction has not been seen in the usual pixelated-captain-of-industry stuff written about our own Admiral Halsey. The writer also tells of his various dealings with Microsoft, Time, AOL, as well as CMP, the Long Island publisher that bought the NetGuide concept from Wolff. Sounds very colorful, to be sure, but given the tendency of memoirs by failed moguls/execs to try to settle scores by the score, your Rumormeister will be wading into Burn Rate with a sharp eye out for both grinding axes and sour grapes.

And then there are sour Apples: ex-Cupertino numero uno Gil Amelio's own memoir, On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple, has been getting whacked by the critics as a payback-time tome extraordinaire. Among those leading the charge is Salon's Scott Rosenberg, who found Amelio's Gildungsroman both whiny and self-serving. The trend here is disturbing: Work on something for a few years, or even 18 months, and then when things quickly hit the Dumpster, write a book about it that purports to impart "lessons" learned from the experience. I can see the next generation of Net-time memoirs now: In the Shadow of Gates: What I Learned from Two Weeks of Temping at Microsoft, and Silicon Valley VC Nightmare: How my Getting Fired from Buck's Diner was Really Not my Fault. Sheesh!

But while some tech execs love to revisit the past, others would just as soon forget. In an interview last week, according to a Skinnysource, a Microsoft product manager admitted that "one or two NT servers aren't enough to run an ISP." In geekspeak, that means NT simply isn't very scalable. While many in the know would respond to this with a pointed "duh," this comment is revealing in light of the fact that Microsoft has used marketing events such as last year's Scalability Day in New York to argue that NT can run the same crucial, high-traffic tasks as big Unix systems. Seems like the software giant has eaten a lot of crow in the past year and is now happy to sit back and wait for NT 5.0, tentatively due early next year, to try and prove it can crunch data with the big boys. Now it can be told: I hope to publish my own memoirs--DuBaudville: How I Kept the Skinny Show on the Road--by 2000, but only if you keep those tidbits coming. Do tell.