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Culture

Gateway spots cows while NetGuide puts staff to pasture

Just a year after its launch as CMP Media's secret Web project "Gulliver," NetGuide Live is having trouble of Brobdignagian proportions.

Sometimes Vermel moves in mysterious ways. I was on the tip hotline yesterday in my "private" study, when the kid marched in, eyes ablaze. "Look what we're reading in English class, Pa!" he said, waving one of my favorites, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels in front of my fedora. "Fancy that," said the voice on the phone...

Just a year after its launch as CMP Media's secret Web project "Gulliver," NetGuide Live is having trouble of Brobdignagian proportions. A well-placed agent du Skinny has divulged that 20 percent of the staff has gotten the ax, including publisher Newton Barrett. Just last Friday, 19 NGLers got their marching orders. Other senior managers will follow, although executive editor Lynn Forbes reportedly will wind up as editor in chief of one of Microsoft's regional Cityscape sites.

Tony Rizzo, editor in chief of parent publication NetGuide, is huddling with other CMP brass at San Francisco's swanky Fairmont Hotel this week to sort out the dead and ride the cable cars up and down Snob Hill. While Tony ponders the winter fog, he might decide to fold NetGuide Live back into NetGuide itself, which wouldn't bode well for the remaining NGL staff.

All in all, parties involved say it has been an ugly descent into corporate politics for a project that once had close to 200 people, full-time and temp combined, and the ambitious goal of running 50,000 Web site reviews. But there's a bright side. "You could use this to write a book on how not to run a Web project," according to one insider.

Maybe NetGuide Live staffers will find work in the busy legal department at Gateway 2000. The South Dakota PC maker with cow-spotted boxes evidently keeps its legal eagle eyes trained on the Web. They recently found a shareware site called Tucows that uses a pair of cute-as-the-dickens Holstein cows as its logo. Gateway has asked Tucows to cease and desist or get slapped with a trademark-infringement lawsuit faster than a ten-armed farmhand can shovel cattle cookies.

"Your company's use of the Holstein cow and cow spots in connection with services relating to products of Gateway 2000 is likely to confuse and deceive the consuming public," the letter reads.

Netizens the world over are foaming at the mouth in, er, udder disbelief, but what they don't realize is that U.S. companies often send such stern letters to defend their trademarks so they can show a judge a paper trail of consistent defense if a really big case comes along. Sad but true.

Gateway's senior VP of global marketing Jim Taylor said that the company hasn't contacted any dairies recently as they're only concerned about infringement within the computer and software businesses. Taylor said Gateway regretted the action, but after all, it's doing it for customers: "We have made a customer commitment to technology and human values, and the cow spots symbolize that commitment." Say what? Like the man said in the movie Trading Places, it ain't cool being a jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving, J.T. Will Tucows be cowed into submission? While we watch grass grow, you can stand apart from the herd by stampeding rich, creamy rumors my way.