There is a Storm: Newstronic
Posting I (continued from... You can jump past the gray text to where the story continues)
I began my interest in everything virtual late in 1994. Print was dead. Unless you were over 35 that is. But effectively it is dead. It's audience dying off. The young turning to TV or worse yet turning off with respect to the news altogether. The net and in particular, news online, was the only hope that the news publishing industry now had. Unfortunately they were botching up the opportunity royally. Spending millions on stand alone web sites and not accepting that ultimately print is just another step in a continuing transition to that perfect information provider service. The big dog named evolution was now yelping and straining the links in the mighty publishing chains.
From the vantage point of the NMN (New Millennium News) Newstronic was a grand plan. It would reshape the industry both in print and online. From reading the board meeting minutes and personal emails that I had gained access to from this period NMN had high hopes for profits and dominance and little regard for the potential for damage that unleashing such an agent on the net could cause.
The Network was chaired by a bean counter from Times-Era, Inc. The term no clue was meant to apply to this guy. The Vice Chairperson was an IS VP from Metro-Cities, Inc. who was more suited for specifying and installing computerized publishing systems that were already outdated. Couldn't interface with any of the leading commercial page layout software. As for TCP/IP 'forget a'bout it'. It only got worse from there.
"The Network" as these guys loved to refer to this gathering of "minds" was no such thing. Yes, there was a group of newspapers. Yes, they had some ten million dollars in the development fund. But no, they were not going to work together closely. Except to decide to what exotic place to go to have their next meeting. Ok. Maybe that's a little harsh, but they certainly were not comparing notes as to how to integrate their respective newspaper empires to give netizens what they want.
So to say they were up to the challenge is a gross understatement. They were up for the publicity that this effort was giving their respective companies and the confusion they were generating in the planning rooms in Silicon Valley, Washington and Virginia. Each NMN press release that the other players would read bought NMN members more time to develop their individual efforts.
If there had never been a product launch I really wouldn't have been too surprised. That there was real development going on was in spite of the Board rather that on account of it. Well not entirely. They after all they did hire the developer. Not because he was the right person for the job of course. The developer was hired on because he was a competitor. Now where have we heard that scenario before? From the beginning the board was over their heads. Now they had a programmer to manage. Anyone who has ever hired a programmer knows that it's "like trying to herd cats". It's best to set the task with the broadest brush stroke. Get out of the way. And hope you get something you can amend as little as possible so it can be somewhat useful. Of course these guys were Presidents and VPs of major corporations. They knew how to manage. They knew how to get what they wanted. They were in no way up to this.
"Mr. Baxter. We have heard about your efforts in the intelligent agent field." They all were looking at him. They wouldn't know an intelligent agent if it came onto their harddrive and showed them how to set up tables in their favorite word processing program. Well maybe they would recognize that action as intelligent.
Baxter. Born Jonathan Riley Baxter, lately of the Charles River institution of modest fame. Recently escaped with some sense of purpose still intact that could be applied to the real world. Had a real attitude but without the piercing and tattoos to match. He had these guys. He knew it.
"Well. You have come to our attention because your efforts since you left Cambridge are along the same lines as what we'd like to do."
(Ok, here it comes. VC money!)
"Jack here, our net guru tells us that you have a working model of an agent that goes out and gathers data per requests entered as simple phases."
(Yep, you could even have your editors input requests. Wow, even you could do it. Even Jack. And we all know he don't know Jack.)
"No. I am just happy to be here. Hopefully we can work together to our mutual benefit."
"That would be our first choice."
"Mr. Baxter, let me outline how we might proceed."
"Just call me Bax. People who I work closely with always do."
"Alright. Bax, We need an agent that we can use to identify news trends. It would go out and gather news data from web sites or from intranets of our member publications and other resouces. By news we mean news created by responsible editors from our member publications and other journalists. Written by professional editors and approved for publication by sensible publishers."
(Ok oh great clueless one. But I'll define news as we do on the net as in 'all information is news'.)
Of course the NMN guys didn't know it. Or didn't want to admit it. But you see, Bax was a born in the ether "all information should be free" and "all information is news" believer. A believer whose beliefs he carried into practice.
"So Bax, can you create such a agent?
And can you do it quickly and within budget?"
"Sure. In fact I have a prototype that is eighty percent complete. Almost ready for a beta launch, of course we need to work out some details."
"Well Bax, we have a great deal of clout that can open doors for you. This could be a feather in your cap. Something that you can grow with as we realize revenue from the product." Here it comes.
"The sky is the limit, Bax."
(My God, that's lame.)
"I took the liberty of putting together a proposal." Bax handed the suit a piece of paper.
"Let's see. Ok. Ok. Ok. We license product?"
"Or, if you instead invest in my company and take a controlling interest then you would own the software and I would get my initial development costs covered. Would that work better for you?"
"That might be worth considering."
(Reel 'em in, Bubba.)
"My current time and out of pocket are around a half million dollars over the past eighteen months at the going programming rate of $100. per hour. That includes the intellectual property rights value and the patent pending documentation."
"Bax, of course disbursement would be incremental. Upon contract, upon proof of concept demonstration and balance upon launch."
"That would be agreeable." Smiling outwardly.
"Great. When can you get started?"
"I'll draft an agreement. It will be in your hands in 48-hours. Then full speed ahead, scope of project, meetings and a lot of code."
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