Culture

Staff cracks as Sidewalk breaks their backs

Since resuming treatment with Dr. Helmut Fraeme-Relais, shrink to the rumor-plagued, I've been paying closer attention to my dreams. At this week's session I described one in which Grandma DuBaud and I are walking through San Francisco's Tenderloin District, and she is shrilly urging me to smash the innumerable crack vials littering the sidewalk.

"I have only one wrinkle, and I'm sitting on it."

--Jeanne Calment, 1875-1997

Since resuming treatment with Dr. Helmut Fraeme-Relais, shrink to the rumor-plagued, I've been paying closer attention to my dreams. At this week's session I described one in which Grandma DuBaud and I are walking through San Francisco's Tenderloin District, and she is shrilly urging me to smash the innumerable crack vials littering the sidewalk.

Dr. Fraeme-Relais stroked his beard and thought for a moment, then burst out, "Step on zee crack, get Grandma off your back!"

Not bad advice for the money, especially since CNET's footing the bill. It turns out CNET isn't the only Net firm sending its employees to their shrinks, as the refugees from Microsoft's Sidewalk are starting to attest.

"Sidewalk is truly a living hell," one recently departed Sidewalker told us. In the San Francisco office alone, recent defections include the creative director, producer, production manager, copy chief, office manager, and three of Microsoft's "permatemps" (with an emphasis on the "temps") in the production department. "The exodus is expected to continue as morale sinks to an all-time low," predicted our disgruntled Sidewalkout.

And San Francisco isn't the only city whose Sidewalk is showing cracks. Production managers in Denver and San Diego are said to have jumped ship, and New York has had long-unfilled production openings.

Microsoft hasn't been overly aggressive about filling any of the proliferating openings, we hear, instead spreading mounting work among increasingly beleaguered staff who are tethered to their desktops by some of the handsomest golden handcuffs we've seen in a while.

Our friend who Sidewalked away from the whole mess is missing the options he left behind, but not what he describes as 80-hour work weeks, managerial mayhem, and strategic blunders. Sidewalk's recent and quickly scuttled redesign caused a freefall in traffic, he reported.

"When we incorporated the redesign with yellow pages and buyers guides, traffic dropped to almost nothing," he recalled. "The design was so bad people didn't know where to go."

Another Sidewalk defector confirmed that morale was in trouble. "But is that different from any other Internet company?" she asked.

From her perspective, tension at Microsoft's content business sprung from the fast-paced changes in strategy that characterize Microsoft's other product line: software. Sidewalk started out hiring creative types, and followed the money toward a more search-engine-centric guide, leaving creative types spinning their talented wheels.

"As for disgruntled employees, all I can say is that if you don't like your job, get a new one! That's what I did," she added.

OK, OK, I know, who am I to be throwing stones on the subject of staff defections and design disasters? News.com has had its share of both in the past few weeks, losing ace reporter Janet Kornblum to USA Today (of all places!) and canning that big single monster .gif we started putting on the front door in November. But what other site has a great 19th century Russian novelist on staff? A reader wrote in to report that in the source code to a News.com story he found the hidden attribution, "Leo Tolstoy contributed to this report."

We also report good news here, so hats off to Jane Metcalfe and Louis Rossetto, who are rumored to be expecting another little bundle of joy.

Tragically estranged from their underachieving firstborn, Wired Ventures, the dynamic digital duo are inspiring whispers with their unusual low profile of late.

"Do any of you even SEE, let alone SPEAK, to Jane and Louis these days?" inquired a fellow ink-stained wretch. "I haven't talked to any ex-Wiredite who has in the last year...What the heck are they doing now, besides offering 'no comments' to reporters? I'm getting a little misty-eyed thinking of the old sneakers."

Speaking of old sneakers, we have more in the joyous tidings department. Paul Santinelli, a favorite industry Skinsider, is now vice prez, tech 'n' apps, at Frontier GlobalCenter. You heard it here first.

And for those of you who wrote in concerned about my son Vermel's hunger strike supporting Pluto's planethood, you'll be pleased to know that it was a success. What's more, I don't think the hunger strike had any lasting harmful effects on Vermel--if anything, I think he actually gained a few pounds.

Still more nice items! Roseanne Siino, VP of PR at Netscape, reached the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro this week as part of a charity climb for CARE (the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, if you must know). Check out Roseanne doing what she does best--fielding questions from pesky reporters--here.

And now, since none of your mail is printable in a family column like this, we're going to end again with my in-box leftovers--that's right, more spam. This was rumored to have been circulating around the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which tests out bombs without exploding them, which is a pretty nifty trick if you think about it.

M E M O
To: All Corporate Staff
From: LLNL Information Systems

LLNL has defined a lower cost alternative for Mac and NT conversions that also addresses the Y2K (Year 2000) issue: The goal is to remove all computers from the desktop by Jan 1, 1999. Instead, everyone will be provided with an Etch-A-Sketch.

Frequently Asked Questions from the Etch-A-Sketch Help Desk:

Q: My Etch-A-Sketch has all of these funny little lines all over the screen.
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I turn my Etch-A-Sketch off?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: What's the shortcut for Undo?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I create a New Document window?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I set the background and foreground to the same color?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: What is the proper procedure for rebooting my Etch-A-Sketch?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I delete a document on my Etch-A-Sketch?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I save my Etch-A-Sketch document?
A: Don't shake it. Meanwhile, I'm always shaking you down for rumors, so go ahead and drop the bomb on me.