Communities.com was a Silicon Valley start-up established in 1994/5
as 'Electric Communities' by veterans of Lucasart's pioneering Habitat.
EC came from building Worlds Away for Fujitsu/Compuserve with the
noble intention of building a distributed, secure 'cyberspace
architecture', with persistent identities and a contractually sound
architecture. I.e. you would be able to spend real money, and
servers would seamlessly interoperate from your 'house server'
through to the giant mega-game server, or the 'Second Bank of
EC's first product was called Microcosm / Habitats, and was to
embody many of these features. Lurking on the fuckedcompany
msg boards, seeking such a thing, I came upon this fine,
anonymous write-up of Communities.com's fall.
The legacy of Communities.com lives on in ERights.org
Douglas Crockford: CTO
Randall F. Farmer: VP, Services
Chip Morningstar: Chief Scientist
Estimated VC: $50m+ (excluding Online @ $40m and The Palace $25m+)
"The Ace of Nines" on fuckedcompany.com msg boards writes:
The True History, Part I 11/14/2000 01:06 AM EST
I'll try to make this brief...
I. High Hopes
Once up on a time there were some Smart Guys (some of the smartest Guys I've
ever worked with) who knew a lot about online communities. They had built the
first graphical chat environment in the '80's, and had just built a modern
successor for a huge Japanese zaibatsu. But they also knew a lot about
cryptography and computer security, and they had a Vision of making online
spaces into more than just chat rooms -- to make them the kind of digital
environment where you could transact business and exchange digital assets
securely, where you could have a persistent digital identity that was perfectly
pseudonymous and unforgeable -- a real Global Cyberspace.
So they brought together some other Smart Guys (and Gals, let's not forget) and
started to work out how to actually build this world.
They also hired some Suits, who had some marketing successes behind them, to
actually run the company. The Suits were able to talk the talk (well. some of
them, anyway) and seemed to understand the Vision and the message, and the Chief
Suit was a wizard at talking money out of Investors. Soon the Smart Guys and
Gals were busily hacking away, building their vision.
And the Suits begat the Feature Creatures, who said "It must be buzzword-
compliant! It must be 3D! It must have stereo MIDI and chrome and bells and
whistles! It must have its own menus and interface widgets and it must not be
like any other program anywhere!"
The Smart Guys (and Gals) were troubled by this. The components of their vision
were small and elegant, and mathematical and subtle, and took much thought, yet
were still extensible enough to be deployed underneath a text MUD and still
support the chrome and bells and whistles later. But the Features of the
Creatures were big and flashy and expensive to develop.
So the Feature Creatures begat the Other Guys (and Gals), who swarmed in great
swarms and built the MIDI and the 3D and the interface widgets and the web site,
while the Smart Guys built the really tricky parts underneath.
And like a plague of locusts, the Feature Creatures and the Other Guys and Gals
devoured great bales of $100 bills, and the Code, swollen with Features, grew
slow and fragile and huge enough to block out the Vision. And when the Creatures
and Suits had finished adding Features, and the Smart Guys and Other Guys had
finished building them, the Code was too huge and slow and fragile for the
machines of the time. It needed a huge 32MB of memory to run -- who could afford
that much RAM? It needed 100MB of disk space to install -- who could afford so
much space! And on the fastest processors of the day -- zipping along at speeds
of up to 100 MHz! -- it ran like molasses. And the Code was put to death, and
the Vision was hidden away, and was spoken of no more.
And the Investors said, "This Company is Fucked!"
The True History, Part II 11/14/2000 01:09 AM EST
II. Desperate Measures
And the Investors, who had dropped great bales of $100 bills on some other
Fucked Companies, brought three of them together and said, "The Three shall
become One." And from each they took some of the Suits and some of the Smart
Guys and some of the Other Guys, and put the rest to death. And they gave the
union a catchy ".com" name, and they saw that it was perhaps not Fucked.
And one of those other Fucked Companies had, instead of a Vision, a Product. Its
architecture was not elegant or subtle, but it had Paying Users. And the
Investors saw that it was good. And the Suits said, "Let us share the Product
with all, whether they can afford to pay or not!" And the Paying Users were a
bit miffed at this, but the Chat Kiddies were thrilled, and they made use of the
Product in great numbers, and paid for it not.
But the Chief Suit, who was a wizard, cast his spell on more Investors, and
brought forth great Rounds of Funding, unto the G-th or H-th generation. And the
bales of $100 bills called forth more Feature Creatures, and more Other Guys,
and Marketroids and Sales Drones and Producers and Creative Directors and Web
Designers. And the worship of the Advertiser became the religion of all. And so
the Smart Guys (who were now few in number, but loyal) brought forth the Ad
Window. And the Chat Kiddies and the Paying Users said, "It is an Abomination".
And the Suits and the Marketroids said, "But we need to make money or our
Company will be Fucked." But the Chat Kiddies and the Paying Users heard them
not. And they blocked up the great Ad Window. Meanwhile a great Market
Correction fell upon the land, and slew a great many of the Advertisers and
Investors, and the Wizard became caught up in a great custody battle, and was
not seen much thereafter. And the bales of $100 bills were eaten away, and the
other Suits said, "This Company is Fucked!"
The True History, Part III 11/14/2000 01:12 AM EST
III. Sorry, Charlie
The other Suits saw that the Users were blocking up the Ad Window, and they
said, "This is not good." And the Serpent was the most subtle of the Suits, and
said, "We must give unto the Users a new Product that does not involve anything
they can download and install and keep, but must run within their Browser!" And
the Smart Guys said, "But client-side programming is still not quite ready for
prime time, and the Browsers are many and varied, and Sun is still fucking with
the Java spec. And the Browser Client will be no good." But the Suits wielded
their whips of iron, and the Smart Guys (who now were a little too tired to have
Vision and just wanted to get away with a little value for their long hard years
of work) labored mightily and brought forth the Browser Client, and it was
called TPV, and the Suits said, "It is good!"
And the Users said, "It sucks ass!" and continued to use the C client and
exchange it privily among themselves, and hack it to block up the Ad Window
which was the Company's only hope of staying afloat.
And the Suits said, "The Users are as children" (which was true) "and are easily
led" (which was not). "Let us make for them a new Product, which will run on the
Web Server instead of the Browser, and will run through their cache like water
through their hands, and let it be called Passport." And the Smart Guys said,
"That will take a year to build and another six months to QA." And the Suits
said, "It shall be done in three months!" And the Smart Guys (who were now just
a handful, and were quietly passing their resumes around to the Smart Guys who
had left the Company when it was first Fucked) sweated and strained and
endangered their romantic relationships and held out for large retention bonuses
and in mere months brought forth the Passport.
And the Suits said, "The Users must worship no other Product but Passport." And
the previous Product was put to death, yea both TPV and the C client too. And
the Other Guys and the Drones and the Producers and the Hangers-On and the
Marketroids with them, cast out and put aside. And Suits said unto the Users,
"Here is the Passport, which you must worship." And the Users said, "It sucks
dead donkey ass!"
And now all the world said, "This Company is Fucked!"
And the Smart Guys said, "We told you so."
The True History, Part IV 11/14/2000 01:21 AM EST
IV. That Which Is Fucked, Bringeth Forth New Life
But the prophets prophesied, saying, "In the belly of that which is Fucked,
sleepeth the Code which was shunned. And look, 32MB is not really so big
nowadays. And the disk footprint for most games is now far greater than 100MB,
and we all have gigabyte hard disks anyway. And by golly at 500MHz this is
actually pretty zippy for a 3D chat client."
And the Smart Guys answered not, for they were a bit burnt out and bitter.
And the prophets said, "When shall come forth a new Wizard to bewitch the
Investors and bring forth great bales of $100 bills?"
And they prophesied, "Lo, shall not a new Wizard come forth (a different Wizard,
for the first one has never been seen again and probably won't be), and shall he
not quietly drop a bale of $100 bills in front of the Suits of the Fucked
Company, and shall they not give up their red-headed stepchild for a song? And
shall the Wizard not found a new Company with a very different name, and hire
much better Suits than before? And shall the Wizard not dangle a bale or two in
front of the Smart Guys, and say, 'Hey, where's that smile?'" And shall not the
Smart Guys kick themselves and fix up the Code, for the sake of the Vision?"
For verily the Prophet of the Great Egress saith, "There is a Seeker born every
Here endeth the lesson.
-- The Ace of Nines
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