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Culture

FC's fan site and Amazon's playwright

Pud, a.k.a. F***edCompany.com's Phil Kaplan, and friends move into the fan site business; Amazon's unemployed put their story onstage.

    Ammonia Blossom--my 12-year-old son's paramour and a consultant to the Rumor Mill--on Thursday marched into my study an alarming shade of purple. Without a word she commandeered my computer and punched in a Web address: Pud.com.

    "Why, that's our old friend Pud," I said. The page featured a photograph of F***edCompany.com's Pud, a.k.a. Phil Kaplan, captioned, "here is pud cute right??" The pink-wallpapered site went on to say:

    "Hi my name is Jenny Taylor and this is my site devoted to 'pud' from the website f---edcompany.com...I dont know a whole lot about the internet business because I am only 13 but I signed up for the 'FC sporadic' his newsletter anyway originally because I just wanted to get email but anyway."

    "Say, this looks like Pud has his own fan site," I said. "Lucky chap."

    "Skinny, WAKE UP. This site is supposedly by a 13-year-old girl, and it's full of sexual innuendo. It's totally inappropriate and disgusting. And more than that, it's pathetically narcissistic. Check out the domain registration for pud.com."

    Ammonia led me on a little jaunt over to the Whois database, and sure enough, the domain name is registered to none other than our friend Kaplan.

    "So what are you going to do about it?"

    "Do, Ammonia?"

    "You have to write about this--you have to denounce this vile Humbert Humbert imitation."

    "But what for? Surely the whole thing is a hoax meant to be found out. Kaplan's obviously trying very hard to be the bad boy of the Web. Why assist him with publicity? We'd be playing into his hands."

    Ammonia stood glaring into the screen for a moment, then left my study in a huff.

    I gave the matter some more thought, then picked up the phone and called Kaplan to find out what was behind the Jenny site. He acknowledged that Pud.com was registered in his name but maintained that he didn't write it.

    "It's just a bunch of friends trying to bust my chops," he explained. "About 10 (copycat fan sites) have popped up today. I think they're really funny. I think it's cute. They're all done by buds of mine."

    Kaplan's not the only one spinning fiction from his life on the Web. Amazon.com--whose layoffs this week the Rumor Mill predicted last month--has its own Boswell with a penchant for invention, one Mike Daisey, who from 1998 until last year toiled in Amazon's customer service and biz dev departments.

    Daisey's spent his time since leaving Amazon working on his one-man show about the company. Recently, he sneaked onto Amazon's campus to film a behind-the-scenes "60 Minutes" parody about the Web superstore--available for viewing on his site.

    "The show is about the corporate culture of Amazon," Daisey told the Rumor Mill. "It's about that incestuous, tightly packed, cult-like atmosphere. You have so many people there following an ideology, a cult of personality around Jeff Bezos."

    Daisey treated the Rumor Mill to a bit of a sneak preview of his material with some ruminations on life at Amazon.

    "I talk about my experience at the company and how it works. I try to explain how so many people could work for a company that doesn't make any money and believe that it was going to make them all millionaires. How it is that people are working a job sometimes 60 or 70 hours a week, not because they love the job, but the idea, that they will change the way the world works and they'll become millionaires in the process. That's a powerful aphrodisiac.

    "My relationship with Bezos? I was near him physically, but we didn't hang out or anything. My attitude was one of dogged admiration and--it's a little embarrassing to admit this--a little bit of hero worship. It's intoxicating to be near someone who created something so big so fast. I had, and still have, enormous respect for the incredible charisma that made Amazon happen. But I think his flaws are as severe as his gifts."

    Amazon was not available to comment on Daisey's creative endeavors or on Bezos' alleged gifts and flaws.

    Is Daisey expecting the recent layoffs to boost ticket sales, as the newly unemployed hit the Seattle theater circuit?

    "We're probably going to have to add shows," Daisey calculated. "We're working with people who are trying to unionize customer service to be represented with a table and people in the lobby. On the wall we're going to have something where Amazonians can sign their name, write what they want--violate their NDAs."

    Since the Rumor Mill spoke with Daisey, Amazon opted to rescind its restrictive NDA requirement for those recently laid off. As for Daisey, his year-old NDA is set to expire the day before the show opens.

    Daisey recalled with relish the experience of invading the Amazon campus to film his parody.

    "I have my badge and everything, so it wasn't very hard," Daisey said. "They do a terrible job when you leave the company. I had network access for a number of months and still could log in. I had access to all their customer data. Without even trying, I could have corrupted records. Instead, I chose to do my show."

    The show must go on, even at LinuxWorld, as scattered participants complain that the penguins have started donning suits. A Skindignant attendee writes:

    "The Linux show has become almost as corporate as IBM PartnerWorld. Every now and again a hairy fellow with a TV camera and a satellite dish duct-taped to his backpack surfaced, but mostly the trade show booths were as polished and full of partner pavilions as the Evil Empire's display at Comdex. Even the ubergeek FreeBSD had booth betties on display wearing racy devil outfits.

    "There were some suspicious similarities between the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo and its anti-show, the debut of Microsoft's Windows 2000. For one thing, the keynote addresses took place in front of a giant laptop computer. But the open-source businesses don't have quite the marketing budget of their Redmond rivals: Unlike the Microsoft show, though, Carlos Santana didn't pop out of the keyboard singing 'Smooth.'"

    Another friend writes in that VA Linux CEO Larry Augustin's keynote bore such a striking resemblance to a sales pitch that sizable proportions of the crowd simply got up and left. Look at me, folks: no fan site, no one-man show, no sales pitch. All I got are your rumors.