But I think it will happen. Because the big media companies are investing a lot of time and expertise in this, and they will figure it out. Things like Hulu are beginning to be the next wave. The technology will have succeeded once it becomes to easy for people who are not technologists to use it.
So we’re waiting for Old Media to save the our bacon?
You do need money to launch a really big website. I mean, look at Twitter—they’re still barely keeping up with their growth.
I hadn’t read much before about Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, and to be honest, I was taken aback by the sleaze level of their earlier enterprises. Essentially these guys were scam artists.
You know, I like to say that they were really good at imitation.
But hold on. At ResponseBase and Intermix, they were peddling spam, fraudulent e-books, and anti-wrinkle cream. They made a business of sneaking spyware onto people’s computers. You must have been aware of this stuff when you began your research.
I knew a tiny bit of it. But as I dug, it got richer and richer, and I was very pleased.
Did it surprise you?
It did surprise me. I thought, okay, whatever, they had sent out spam emails for one product. There were always rumors, things that had been hinted at in the past.
For me, there was a certain comedy in them selling the cheapo remote-control cars from China, or the miniature spy cameras. That’s just low-end retail. But the American flag cursor they persuaded people to download, which then planted spyware for banner ads on their computers—that’s actually illegal. And morally indefensible.
Yes. Particularly given the fact that they were jumping on the 9/11 bandwagon.
So what do you make of it all?
I hadn’t spent much time with people like this before, and it made me realize that this is what entrepreneurship is all about. These people throw stuff against the wall until something sticks. They have no way of knowing which of their crazy ideas will make it big. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit, which I have to admire. I probably couldn’t cut it in that world.
A related question. At one point in your book, venture capitalist David Carlick recalls his initial meeting with Richard Rosenblatt, who would become the CEO of MySpace corporate parent eUniverse. “I fell in love with the guy,” recalls Carlick. “He’s a reality distortion field.” Didn’t such reality-distortion specialists already wreak enough havoc during the first dot-com boom? Or is this just the nature of the entrepreneurial game?
I think it is the nature of the game. Carlick compares Rosenblatt to Steve Jobs. His basic point is that Steve Jobs is the ultimate reality distortion field (he didn’t invent that line, by the way). And it’s true. The greatest entrepreneurs are hucksters who have simply crossed the line into brilliance.
To a large degree, your book is about the mating dance between Old and New Media—with Rupert Murdoch dominating the dance floor. At this point, how does Murdoch look? Is he a swashbuckling visionary, or did he get sold a bill of goods?
Rupert Murdoch wanted to get into the Internet. And what’s interesting to me about the way he did it is that it was very entrepreneurial, very opportunistic. He had a list of all these things he wanted. MySpace wasn’t on that list! But MySpace was available—and he knew he had to move fast. One thing that Rupert Murdoch has consistently proven (the exception being his purchase of the Wall Street Journal) is that he has a great sense of timing.
Did you feel any discomfort writing about Murdoch, since he’s ultimately your boss at the Journal?
I knew we were going to get to that question. What’s so strange is that when I left the Journal for book leave, I was the News Corp. beat reporter. All I did was write articles about Rupert Murdoch that he generally wouldn’t like. I left to do the book, and I had no idea this bid was coming (which probably makes me a bad reporter). He wasn’t my boss when I left! Then he bought the paper, and I thought, “Oh, dear.” I had a lot of conversations with people when I returned from book leave, and everybody has been really nice. Mostly because what he’s done with the Journal is very similar to what he did with MySpace—he put one new person at the top, but everybody else is still there, all my old colleagues. There has not been a huge overhaul of management.
So it was basically okay.
So far. The book isn’t out yet.
It doesn’t sound like News Corp. cooperated with the project, aside from giving you a book leave.