RAMP UP THE SYNERGIES
November 24, 2017
In the fall of 1997, I was working as co-producer of Tripod.com, an Internet startup in western Massachusetts backed by venture capital. (My wife, Susan, also worked there for a while — though she had quit, by this point, after having become pregnant.) What were we selling? My editorial and design colleagues and I told ourselves that we were a publication that happened to offer free server space and homepage-building tools. According to our founder, however, we were selling “eyeballs.” He was right: We were serving 100 million page views per month, primarily driven by the free homepages.
Ours was a talented crew! Ambitious, too: My fellow co-producer is now Facebook’s product design director. Another colleague is director of the MIT Center for Civic Media; another leads Amazon Prime and Delivery’s design and user experience team; another is VP at the market research and strategy firm SmithGeiger; another is Culture Editor at NewYorker.com; another is an English professor at Whittier College; another founded the cycling clothing company Ornot, from whom I buy all my gear. Etcetera, etcetera: I don’t mean to single out just a few folks, because all of my colleagues went on to do impressive and admirable things with their lives. I, however, was ambivalent, conflicted.
Although I was a fan of this amazing new medium, and although I worked very hard at my job (particularly at being a thoughtful, supportive manager), on evenings and weekends, I continued to write for high-minded, low-circulation print journals like The Baffler and The Idler, puzzled over Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Irony, and slowly assembled what became the issue #11/12 of my zine Hermenaut.
When ABC News’s prestigious Nightline show turned up in our offices, hoping to explain to their credulous viewers what the “digital revolution” was all about, I spontaneously spouted nonsense at the first opportunity. “You know — FTP connectivity hyped up to the hilt,” I said to my friend and colleague Chris, having spotted a camera crew lurking around the corner. “Exactly,” Chris replied, deadpan, as though we’d rehearsed this moment. “Ramp it up,” I urged him. “Get the synergies ramping with, uh… daily rocket.” [*].
Ramping up, synergies — the VP to whom I reported was addicted to Fast Company and Wired; I was channeling and mocking him. Nightline was bamboozled: “When they do talk, it’s in digital newspeak!”
The program aired on November 24, 1997 — twenty years ago, today. Three months later, Tripod was sold to Lycos for nearly $60 million in stock. [**]. Susan gave birth to our son Sam in February 1998. I resigned, and we moved to Boston. I’d just turned 30; last month, I turned 50. Sam will turn 20 in February!
Years later, Tripod’s founder published a (very) little book — Lucky or Smart?: Secrets to an Entrepreneurial Life — which generously, even extravagantly praises his Tripod colleagues who helped him become the wealthy man he is today. For some reason, I’m not mentioned in it anywhere.
[*] People who have reported on my prank have tended to assume that “daily rocket” was a piece of ridiculousness that I invented on the spot. Actually, the Daily Rocket was a financial portfolio-tracking tool featured on our site.
[**] I’ve recounted elsewhere what I did with my relatively minuscule share of the loot.