"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 24 May 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 5.24.01

Kaycee Nicole died twice last week, first of an aneurysm, then of exposure. Well known in the weblog community for her journal chronicling life with leukemia, Kaycee was a nineteen-year-old beautiful spirit — enthusiastic, hopeful, loving and, um, not actually real. Invented by a woman claiming to be her mother, Kaycee, her site and every communication she had with dozens of people — including phone calls, e-mail, instant messages, and care packages — were faked, in a hoax years-long and fathoms deep. On the Internet, nobody knows you're healthy.

In the already emotionally unstable world of weblogging, this revelation — which leaked out, by degrees, over the course of a few days — hit like a bomb, leaving legions of sympathetic visitors in varying states of shock, consternation, ennui and, hell, hunger, for all we know. There has been much gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth.

The episode raises a host of thorny issues involving community, anonymity, self, identity theft and trust — the typical post-brouhaha philosophizing — but actually addressing them sounds like a lot of work. So instead, we'll just note that there's a small ray of hope for the Internet if someone is willing to put hundreds or thousands of hours into a lie without ever making a dime off it. With the collapse of the bubble, we were afraid that kind of creativity/outright fraud had been chased off the Web.

Of course, where there are suckers, there's a business plan, and just because Kaycee's "mom" didn't see fit to exploit that fact doesn't mean others won't. Rather than being indignant, the Kaycee beta testers should consider themselves lucky — they got to experience the very latest in immersive marketing ahead of the rush. Forget Evan Chan and A.I. and their little tail-chasing game: Kaycee had more emotional resonance, a better mystery and the ultimate in reality-based drama — people who didn't even know they were involved.

For all the lamentations that have followed the collapse of Kaycee's story, we can't help but think it, or something very close to it, is the future of marketing. A middle-aged woman with an Internet connection pulled off the sort of intimate attachment with a brand that major corporations would — you'll excuse the expression — die for. Kaycee may be dead, but her legacy is just beginning.

"The challenge, for them, goes beyond merely coping with the Silicon Valley swoon," writes the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, in his parable of the disappointed tech writers. "It is watching paper fortunes disappear, neighborhoods change, employers go belly-up, friends get tossed out of work — and wondering whether they, in ways large and small, became part of one of history's great hype machines." We considered ourselves duly fingered and justly chastened; but our sources assure us Howard Kurtz is part of the biggest hype machine since Pravda. He operates a big bellows down in the kitchen, or so they say.

Even if we never mastered the art of making money, Suck can go safely out of business knowing we never lost our knack for making enemies. Here's one recent report from everybody's favorite Suck reader, Humberto:

Hey Sucksters,

Netslaves' Steve Gilliard took some time off from playing investigative reporter (revealing to the world that dot-com failures have gasp shoddy fundamentals) to present his own take on the "Where did the 4 Trillion go?" question presented by Suck a few weeks ago. As an intro, he decided to direct some of his trademark outrage at Suck:

"A "satirical" Web site posted a story recently where they asked where did the trillions, that's right, trillions, with a T, have gone...This website thought this was another chance to make a funny, and I would agree with them, until I start thinking about a couple who invested thousands in Critical Path. Like most of the boom IT companies, its real worth as a public company is a fraction of what it was at its height. The punchline: the husband has cancer and may die at his desk because they lost that money. So I don't think it's a goddamn bit funny."

I don't know if he also feels the same "not a goddamn bit funny" outrage towards Satirewire and Fuckedcompany or any other publication that employs a bit of dark humor with regard to dot-coms. Gilliard himself appears to repeatedly violate the "no humor near tragedy" rule with his lukewarm attempts at "making a funny" within his reporting. Maybe the problem is that he thinks that you Sucksters are living it up, and thus have no right to make fun of the crisis.

Says Gilliard, "Of course, the owners of said Web site won't be missing any meals. We'd say their name, but there's no point in it. If you read the story, you know and if you didn't, it doesn't matter."

Not naming the site seems like an odd choice coming from a writer who has spent the last couple of months pointing fingers and naming names on Netslaves. Later on, Gilliard writes "That money didn't just get up and walk away. It is in banks, in offshore accounts, in real companies, while stockholders are left holding a very empty bag." His accounting of where the money is includes a laundry list of the usual culprits, CEO's, VC's, and brokerages along with expense accounts, perks, and Aeron chairs. While a lot of real money undoubtedly burned up in those places, Gilliard omitted an important detail. When the Suck story originally ran, astute readers quickly pointed out that much of that 4 Trillion consisted of never capitalized imaginary gains.

In the Netslaves discussion thread that follows, Gilliard mentions the Nazi atrocities that led up to the Nuremberg trial and hints that they are preparing their own trial: "It will take months to work up to the full out show trial which is needed. We will be making a full case before we expand the site's offerings. It will be our final, exclusively job-related offering. Depending on if we're eating or not, we will pull together the documents, name the names and find the guilty using their own words." (on another occasion, as I recall, Gilliard compared Esther Dyson and Howard Rheingold to Robert McNamara, so the war crimes comparisons aren't unexpected).

Recently, Netslaves changed its tagline from "Horror Tales of Working the Web" to "Undertakers of the New Economy". Fitting, given the number of people actually working the web right now, but if they're supposed to be the undertakers of the new economy, they're not doing a very good job of it. Why am I telling you all this? Well, any case of Suck-dissing deserves mention, but one by a Plastic partner warrants it a bit more. They need a good slap. Maybe Tim can whip up an H&R bit about them. As I see it, the gauntlet is on the floor.

Maybe it's just that, as we find more and more often these days, we couldn't have said it better than Humberto anyway. Maybe we're just tired. But Gilliard's assault is so pathetic, his Rumpelstilstkin tantrum so obviously more a symptom than a cause, that we wouldn't feel right responding. Desperate times may or may not bring about desperate measures, but it's for damn sure they bring about desperate theories, and Gilliard's combination of bogus populist pique and old-fashioned stab in the back theory is a perfect indicator of our own panic-ridden times. First a conspiracy of office furniture salesmen, venture capitalists and the Trilateral Commission moves $4 trillion into numbered bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. Then an elite group of scoundrels apparently headed by Suck lives it up by ripping off the marrow of the laboring classes. And now it appears that Suck has the power to give people cancer. This may not explain much about the state of the market, but it's the kind of talk that gets more shrill and frequent when you see the end approaching, when everybody you know is getting laid off or going out of business, and you're just sure somebody must be responsible for this mess. Indeed, Gilliard's intemperate talk of Nazis and Nuremberg may be appropriate in a sense, but he's applying it to the wrong people. Here we all are in the last days, cowering in the bunker as the Russians close in, waiting for our numbers to come up, and listening to the ever more fanciful ravings of madmen. Which is why we're not angry, or even surprised, by Gilliard's attack. It's a sign our chaotic times. At any minute, any one of us could be promoted to Field Marshal or executed on the spot.

Courtesy of The Sucksters

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