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It's a spam world after all

According to the word on Main Street, Disney's multimedia division is laying off full-time workers in favor of freelancers--and using spam to recruit talent over the Net.

    I was down in Marina Del Rey last week when a pale man in a black turtleneck furtively beckoned me. I followed him outside by the drive-through espresso shack. He saw me staring at his hands, which were gnarled and shaking. "The mouse," he whispered. "Beware the mouse!" "Sure, you have to be careful," I nodded. "Make sure you get up and stretch every half hour. And use as many keyboard commands as possible." "No!" he hissed. "You don't understand! The Mouse!" He drew me closer.

    Turns out the poor wretch was a 3D animator, and like many of his ilk in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom, he says the Big D is pulling a UPS.

    According to the word on Main Street, Disney's multimedia division is laying off full-time workers in favor of freelancers--and using spam to recruit talent over the Net. My Mouseland mole says he had no sooner made a few postings to a Usenet design newsgroup than voila!--he received an email invitation to show his work at the Magic Kingdom. However, the exact same posting then appeared in the newsgroup the next week. In response to his "Hey, Goofy--did you just spam me?" email, he was told that, yes indeed, Disney was indeed combing newsgroups for potential freelancers and mass-mailing their help wanteds, undeterred by the Net's clear dislike for this sort of activity. It might not be illegal, but it certainly shows a clear lack of imagineering.

    The animation community isn't too happy about the staff switcheroo, either. Remember folks, when mano-a-mouseo with Mickey, those are white gloves, not kid gloves.

    Another instructive fable wound its way to my desktop this week, this time regarding the recent decline in the fortunes of the oxymoronic creature known as the computer book publishing industry. A seasoned veteran of the print-about-pixel wars wrote to say that, rather than killing trees, computer book publishers such as Ventana, Addison-Wesley, and MacMillan were starting to kill titles. Wired's HardWired print division also apparently has gone from tossing Mind Grenades to losing their aim and casting about for a buyer--possibly Penguin-according to my hardcover undercovers.

    A quick survey of my publishing industry sources resulted in a split decision. While some professed "best-year-ever" sentiments, others acknowledged the downturn as a result of no big software releases this year, typical business cycles and, of course, ever-fiercer competition.

    So who's right, the Paranoids or the Panglosses? Watch the shelves, I say.

    If you find yourself lacking in hard-bound tech drama, you can always go to the Web to find a soap opera or two about IFusion, the "push" pioneer that declared bankruptcy this past March and was then snapped up by AirMedia for a paltry quarter-mil. The protagonist of this yarn--as told by a former IFusion employee--is founder Michael Recanati, who reportedly burned through $18 million in 1.5 years, continually turned down lucrative deals if they didn't allow him to retain enough power, and convinced investors that the company's flagship product--ironically entitled "Arrive"--would be out much earlier than realistically could be expected.

    Add to all this the lack of a business strategy and a Jack-of-All-Trades attempt to be both a channel and a content provider, and you have all the ingredients for a disaster of classic proportions, much of which has been rehashed in the media. For the undiluted sour grapes, however, check out the IFusion BBS, a sort of GripeStock for ex-IFusionaries. Equal parts humor and anguish, this group exchanges, well, let's just say impassioned emails about what went wrong at their ex-place d'emploi and why. Highlights include the mantra "I survived Arrive," and one memorable rhetorical question, "Which of the IFusion execs would you trust with (even) the responsibility of watching your pets while you were on vacation?"

    Nutty Headline of the Week award goes to the San Jose Mercury News, which published the "Dark Alliance"story about the alleged CIA plot to finance the Contras by selling drugs in America's inner cities. My lab rats found chemical traces of that story on a headline in Tuesday's Merc: "New blow for Mac cloners." And I thought everyone in this business was wired on Java...

    After my last column, some of you accused me of being high. I thank everyone who explained that a "Fictitious Business License" has nothing to do with that fake I.D. your older brother had in high school. It's in fact a legitimate document, also known as a "Doing Business As" License or a Fictitious Name Statement--in other words, a real thing. Mea culpa. I may not have a Fictitious Business License, but rumors are indeed my bread and butter, so give those juicy ones a hurl toward my URL.