"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 15 March 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Murky Brown



If information is power, then the

current wave of bullshit could

appropriately be termed a




The subtlety of this axiom wasn't

lost on Wall Street speculators

this week, who responded to the

Internet players' PR speed chess

match with a bullish stance on

AOL and a bearish take on

Netscape - proof positive that

it pays big to be fooled, as

long as you're prepared to be

fooled again and again, as often

as possible. Assuming relevance

goes hand-in-hand with

popularity, those who studied

NPD Research's PC-Meter stats on

Web usage, released this week,

would conclude that late-breaking

news has little value at all.


[Top 25 Sites]

Working from an anemic

sample of 1000 home users, NPD

Research shouldn't have been

surprised that its client-side

tracking software reported that

the most visited sites on the

Web were the default home pages

assigned by the current batch of

online services. And if the

boneheads at NPD listed mcom.com

(Mosaic Communications, or

pre-settlement Netscape, which

ranked 13th in the lineup) and

netscape.com (which ranked

third) separately, who's to

complain? In the study, news

sites, with a 6 percent share,

trailed far behind every other

category, including educational,

"adult" (which we like to think

of as "educational"), and even

government sites. Curiously, the

"news" that aol.com was the most

visited site on the Web was

revisited quite a few times in

NPD's study and press releases.


[News Markets]

It may be the fate of would-be

information and questionable

statistics to be of more and

more value to fewer and fewer

people. Of course, the real

winners of this infotainment

lottery was NPD, whose press

release also performed the neat

trick of auto-stimulation by

noting that the company's

quarterly reports are available

for the modest sum of $50K (with

an additional $125K throwing

consultation into the bargain).

Still, given the tenor of the

times, such data only served as

a bolstering footnote to AOL's

week-long promotional bowel

movement, a series of non-events

which the business press, not

unsurprisingly, covered like




AOL, voted "Most Popular by the

Web," jilts Netscape for

Microsoft! AOL licenses Java!

AOL commences talks with AT&T!

If Michael Ovitz were involved,

we'd half-expect an HBO original

movie by summer.


[Billy Gates]

It only makes sense that AOL, the

reigning champion of charging

phenomenally for what is

otherwise available for free,

would turn playing coy into a

cacophony. But, while Ted

Leonsis, president of AOL,

lectures on the sophistication

of "disaggregation," Bill Gates

puts the principle into

practice, cementing the success

of Microsoft in the browser

market by giving MSIE to AOL, Netcom,

and CompuServe, while apparently

offering little more in return

than a slot on the long menu of

online services in Son of

Windows 95.


[Spanish Fly]

AOL bigwigs may not have "been

taking stupid pills," but

someone obviously slipped them

some Spanish Fly - what else

could explain the gang-bang

merger orgy in which everyone

who played got the short end of

a very big stick? But their pain

is nothing compared to

Netscape's - Netscape loved AOL

until AOL, who hated Microsoft,

leveraged Microsoft's greater

hate for Netscape to their

advantage. Now Netscape's just



[Dial Tone]

Naturally, the news of these

murky deals has a greater impact

than their far-off realities.

All the companies involved are

hungry, and the money flows when

investors see what they're

hungry for, regardless of

whether any of them will ever

get it. Fully aware that

contempt is a small price to pay

for familiarity, what everyone

wants is that all-important

first hit - the desktop icon

which gives the

soon-to-be-familiar Internet

dial tone.



Meanwhile, Clark ponders, Leonsis

panders, Gates plunders, and the

rest of us are left scratching

our heads. The future? Armchair

investing replaces the state

lottery, as the news - faster,

better, and more illusory - gets

spun out of control. We see a 6

percent share. We see the finest

bullshit money can buy.

courtesy of the Duke of URL