Culture

VCs fund ex-Microsoft exec, About cuts a check

As those of you familiar with my autoresponder know, I read all my email--or at least what my faithful assistant Trixie Pixel deems appropriate.

As those of you familiar with my autoresponder know, I read all my email--or at least what my faithful assistant Trixie Pixel deems appropriate. Somehow, this one slipped through:

Subject: KURIOUS
To: skinny@cnet.com
ARE YOU REALLY SKINNY, OR JUST TOO LITE TO FIGHT AND TOO THIN TO WIN?

Cut to the quick, I skulked out of my cozy home office and stepped on the bathroom scale. When I first started this gig, I suffered from InterButt, but years on the job have whittled me to a splinter of my former self. Looking dejectedly down at the dial, I saw the truth: I'm too skinny.

My 12-year-old son Vermel, who with his paramour, Ammonia Blossom, has been apprenticing in the rumor trade, had a suggestion for me as I wolfed down my four-course breakfast.

"I noticed that Benchmark Capital just registered CrossGain.com," said Vermel, who monitors domain name acquisitions for kicks and tips. "Sounds like it's right up your alley--maybe you can sign up for their clinical trials."

I did some snooping of my own and my hopes were dashed. CrossGain, though it may evoke thoughts of cross training and weight gaining, has nothing to do with either. Instead, the stealth Redmond start-up looks like it will develop and host business-to-business applications, perhaps invading the territory staked out by Hewlett-Packard with its e-services initiative.

CrossGain is headed by recently departed Microsoftie and antitrust trial star Tod Nielsen. Nielsen was VP in charge of developer relations at Microsoft for 12 years.

Nielsen couldn't be reached for comment, and CrossGain is keeping mum about the exact nature of its business. People nosy enough to pry into the CrossGain source code will have their wrists gently slapped: "We have not yet announced our team or our products, so this Web site cannot contain any detailed information about the company."

However useless for my physical fitness goals, CrossGain might be of interest to any Microsofties who don't want to stick around until the courts chop the software behemoth into tiny pieces. CrossGain is hiring!

From the employment listings, we know that the start-up is "building an Internet service that wires together businesses using XML"; new hires will "design, build and maintain the data centers in which this service will run"; and the service will run on "an intuitive application programming model (supported by) sophisticated messaging and (Oracle) database technology that allows many of these applications to coexist in a large data center."

Phew! That's a mouthful, especially for someone as skinny as I am. But in the place of "detailed information," it will have to do for now.

About that digital coal mine
Former freelancers for About--the "Human Internet" directory that was the Mining Co. before it was About.com before it became merely About--are in search of a little detailed information concerning their compensation. Some of them suspect they're getting the shaft--but the Rumor Mill found that the situation is more convoluted.

Turns out that these independent contractors signed contracts that provided them no compensation for their work once they left the Web site. But in December, the company dropped a letter assuring freelancers that in the event they abandoned their posts as "guides," they would be paid for their material that stayed on the site.

Some of these former guides whose work remains on the site are wondering whether About has forgotten all About them.

"Until March of this year I was a guide at About.com, handling the city site for Augusta, Ga., and travel site for Cruises," former guide Linda Coffman wrote in an email interview with the Rumor Mill. "When I left, I was told I would receive an accounting of the page views and quarterly payment. I figured the second quarter ended on June 30th, and I waited until July 31st--expecting to hear something. Nothing. No monthly page view accounting, and no quarterly check."

Anita Dunham-Potter, a former About guide who wrote about Air Travel, also spends lonely afternoons waiting by the postbox.

"My battle with About.com should be an important lesson for any writer," Dunham-Potter told the Rumor Mill, echoing the sentiments of recent lawsuits by freelance writers whose work is being published on the Web ad infinitum without additional compensation. "They need to know where their content stands if they choose to leave. Do Web sites keep making money off your hard work and you get nothing?"

About executives insist they're keeping their noncontractual promise to compensate former guides. But apparently they haven't kept everyone up-to-date with the details of the compensation program. Nobody gets a check until the grand total of royalty payments reaches $50, About execs explained. And since many of the About pages in question are dated and not drawing significant traffic, they speculate that some disgruntled former guides may not have reached that magic $50 plateau.

Except Coffman, About execs said. They assured the Rumor Mill that her check is in the mail.

I'm going to spend the coming week eating like a champ. So feed me your rumors.