January 31, 2011
It's easy to forget just
how crazy things got during the Web 1.0 bubble in 2000. That was over ten years ago. For context, Mark Zuckerberg was all of sixteen when the original web bubble popped.
There's plenty of evidence that
we're entering . It's just less visible to people outside the tech industry because there's no corresponding stock market IPO frenzy. another tech bubble Yet.
There are two films which captured the hyperbole and excess of the original dot com bubble especially well.
The first is the documentary
Startup.com. It's about the prototypical web 1.0 company: one predicated on an idea that made absolutely no sense, which proceeded to flame out in a spectacular and all too typical way for the era. This one just happened to occur on digital film. The govworks.com website described in the documentary, the one that burned through $60 million in 18 months, is now one of those ubiquitous domain squatter pages. A sign of the times, perhaps.
The second film was one I had always wanted to see, but wasn't able to until a few days ago:
Code Rush. For a very long time, Code Rush was almost impossible to find, but the activism of Andy Baio nudged the director to make the film available under Creative Commons. You can now watch it online — and you absolutely should.
Remember when people
charged money for a web browser? That was Netscape.
Code Rush is a PBS documentary recorded at Netscape from 1998 - 1999, focusing on the
open sourcing of the Netscape code. As the documentary makes painfully clear, this wasn't an act of strategy so much as an act of desperation. That's what happens when the company behind the world's most ubiquitous operating system decides a web browser should be a standard part of the operating system.
Everyone in the documentary knows they're doomed; in fact, the phrase "we're doomed" is a common refrain throughout the film. But despite the gallows humor and the dark tone, parts of it are oddly inspiring. These are engineers who are working heroic, impossible schedules for a goal they're not sure they can achieve — or that they'll even survive as an organization long enough to even finish.
The most vivid difference between Startup.com and Code Rush is that Netscape, despite all their other mistakes and missteps, didn't just burn through millions of dollars for no discernable reason. They produced a
Through Netscape Navigator, the original popularization of HTML and the internet itself.
With the release of the Netscape source code on March 31st, 1998, the unlikely birth of the commercial open source movement.
Eventually producing the first credible threat to Internet Explorer in the form of Mozilla Firefox 1.0 in 2004.
Do you want money? Fame? Job security? Or do you want to change the world … eventually? Consider how many legendary hackers went on to brilliant careers from Netscape: Jamie Zawinski, Brendan Eich, Stuart Parmenter, Marc Andreeseen. The lessons of Netscape live on, even though the company doesn't. Code Rush is ultimately a
meditation on the meaning of work as a programmer.
I'd like to think that when Facebook – the next Google and Microsoft rolled into one –
goes public in early 2012, the markets will react rationally. More likely, people will all collectively lose their damn minds again and we'll be thrust into a newer, bigger, even more insane tech bubble than the first one.
Yes, you will have incredibly lucrative job offers in this bubble. That's the easy part. As Startup.com and Code Rush illustrate, the hard part is figuring out
why you are working all those long hours. Consider carefully, lest the arc of your career mirror that of so many failed tech bubble companies: lived fast, died young, left a tired corpse.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
What will Code Rush tell me that I don't already know from having read Zawinski's various commentaries on the demise of Netscape and the birth of Mozilla?
I dont think a 2nd tech bubble can ever be as big as the first one. Very interesting post, I think a lot of the younger generation (myself included) dont realise how much Netscape did for the modern internet.
The .com boom & bust is not represented well on film but I did enjoy August (
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0470679/ ) Josh Hartnett gets it pretty spot-on with his portrayal of a buzzword spouting young gun talking absolute garbage to the suits while his younger brother gets on with the coding. The portentous 9/11 foreshadowing may have put some off, but is very accurate - funding disappeared after that day and put a full stop on some that may have weathered it out. Well worth a watch.
@Aaron yes, it does. Jamie spoke only briefly about the demise of netscape on his site and it serves as cliffs notes to what code rush focuses on in more detail.
That said, I'm confused about the "brilliant careers" sentence. Jamie didn't go on to a brilliant programming career, he quit the business entirely to run a night club. As as startup programmer myself, that option is looking more tempting by the day...
Did Netscape charge for the browser? I was in school 91-96 and never paid for netscape (of course this was on various flavors of unix). As I remember, but can't seem to confirm, they were charging for server software and had some deluxe versions of Netscape. I do know I asked the Netscape recruiter (sent to MIT) in fall '95 how they planned on making money. His answers are precisely why I didn't go work for them: 1. "You'd be surprised how many people pay us for the browser." and 2. "We can sell advertisements based on where people browse". I didn't want to work for a place that 1. I'd be surprised we were making money, or 2. Did something I thought was creepy and would therefore fail. or 3. Sent someone dumb to recruit at MIT. Before I interviewed I actually couldn't imagine Netscape failing, after that interview I had a tough time imagining that they could succeed.
I don't think you're being fair to govworks though (the startup.com guys)... I've seen the movie and the idea has some merit.
I don't know how it's in the US, but here in Israel people pay their taxes/fine online all the time. The online-enabled anyway, I suspect not all grandmothers do that ;)
If anything, the movie taught me how poisonous relationships between co-founders can ruin a startup no matter what the success prospects of the idea are.
Another film in the same vein is eDreams which portrays the startup Kozmo.com, which burned through $250 million over a similar time span. eDreams is in some ways less personal with regards to its perspective on the relationship between the founders than Startup.com, but still worthwhile to get a sense of the gold rush that occurred during that first bubble.
Who says it is for you?
Here here. I remember using the internet back then, but I was largely oblivious to the browser wars. As to my memory of Netscape's going open -- I recall feeling (to paraphrase) that this was not
"the first act of Henry V", but that's about it. I did not realize how titanic a struggle or how paramount an issue was at hand. And, while Netscape may have, for all intents and purposes, failed, we are fortunate that in the death of Netscape, they seeded, not a tired corpse, but something which has stood up to the behemoth.
"Lived Fast, Died Young, Left a Tired Corpse"
I think that's what it said on my headstone the last time I played Nethack.
In 2003 I produced a short mockumentary called "Pie in the Sky" for the 48 film project— loosely inspired by Startup.com, as well as my own experiences at tech startups.
Ironically, between Kozmo, GovWorks, and online pizza ordering, the online ordering is probably the most lucrative area now.
The film is online here:
Heh, when I read the title, I thought this was about Quora...
@SteveSteiner If I remember it correctly, Netscape made the browser free to download, and free "for educational" use. This covered all us students in college at the time. The most succinct summing up of the rise and fall of the Netscape business model comes from a Rands article (
At the time, the money was coming from enterprises who a) “got” web browsers and b) purchased site licenses for the browsers. Netscape sales folks would comb download logs, see what companies had employees downloading the browser, call ‘em up, and sell ‘em site license. Nice model. Too bad about that whole Microsoft screwing.
@Alanstorm Thanks for the pointer. Oddly the link in your comment hits a 404, but a search found the page at that exact link.
I remember that time oh so well. Right out of college, eager to get my foot in the door. Myself and pretty much everybody I knew became a casualty of this bubble. One minute you feel like your on top of the world, the next, you're sitting in a bar at 11am doing shots wondering where you're going to work next.
Another film which summed up the excess of the time was The Smartest Guys in The Room about Enron. It took a few more years for Enron to collapse, but they made their name during the same time.
Great article by the way - just found a few more movies to watch!
Bubble? Which bubble? I think you are taking Facebook's meteoric rise as a trend for the global market. The software development market is running quite slowly (at least in Europe). Companies are not investing in new IT projects as they were some years ago. Some IT service providers are struggling for survival.
Bubble? I don't think so....
I believe Jeff is referring to a future bubble, to appear in about a year.
Thanks for amazing movie. I'm watching it now at late night.
I was in Canada at the time, along with a Canadian friend trying to launch our startup. We weren't affected by the bubble in the sense we saw our stock devalue. We were instead starting to launch our hunt for VCs. So our business didn't even got a change to start because everyone was backing out. In retrospect, we were just another "all talk, no substance" buzz-riddled business of the time, and given we were getting ready to not put personal protection plans on the table (relying exclusively on our wages), it's good we came late and didn't get a chance to start.
As for the issue itself, I like to think that bubbles serve the good purpose of restructuring the market around realistic concepts. It's in the aftermath of these events that the market becomes sane and healthy. Before that it is governed by hunches and a great dose of smart-talk.
Finally, I don't think that graph reveals a bubble in the works. It looks a lot like business-as-usual. If anything there's a steep climb from the 2008 stock market decline back to the values that preceded it.
So, IPv4 exhaustion plays the role of Y2K in this bubble, yes?
Thank you for sharing the video. I've read about Netscape and it's really cool to actually see all those people! I had somehow imagined them to be working in good office space (like Joel has)... Given the work environment it's amazing they got as far as they did. Doing development that way is not maintainable at all.
Fast-talking the suits, earning truckloads of cash, bailing out early and retiring before I'm 30? Sounds like fun. I'm looking forward to the next bubble.
Great post, Jeff. I hadn't heard of Code Rush and will look forward to checking it out. Another recent film along these lines that I thoroughly enjoyed was "We Live in Public". It's a great portrayal of one man's success, paranoia, and ultimate failure working in the excess of the bubble.
You know, the thing about the bubbles that no one mentions is: There are people who create startups knowing they are crap, just so they can burn through investor money. I used to work for one of those guys. Their idea is: get through the code to make v1.0 so we can attract investors. Who cares if it works "right", as long as it works "good enough" to attract investors...
"Facebook – the next Google and Microsoft rolled into one" - Your wrong there my friend. Microsoft and Google have their fingers in many more pies than Facebook.
Facebook doesn't even have an O/S or a search engine, or a DB platform. The list goes on and on.
Facebook will always be a social platform that makes money off Ads, nothing more.
@Gustavo Martins - Dev jobs are a dime a dozen. I've got 3 open req's on my team right now. Problem is there is still a lot of garbage floating out there. We see streams of resumes that say the right thing, but first interview (phone) is usually a disaster. I've lost a number of employees in the recent weeks as well because of hot jobs in the developer market.
@Vince - By the next google/microsoft rolled into one, I'm pretty sure he's talking about the financial value. Both MS & Google have to make significant investment across hundreds of product lines to achieve the same revenue stream as Facebook without nearly the profit. Facebook has one primary product, and then the ancillary applications that support it. It's whole business is to collect, dissect, and report data. Most of that data we all just volunteer! And it's pretty much all marketing data.
Example. Picture the following status update.
"Just went to see Goodfellas with Mike Rowe, and George Carlin. Awesome movie! Better than Casino!"
What did you learn? 3 specific people liking a movie. I know their exact age, demographic, related interests, friends that I can cross reference and a myraids of information of my likes, dislikes, historical actions etc.
Facebook isn't writing it's own DB engine, which comes at a cost of billions of dollars (especially with the volume of data they have). You can pay 50+ - 150k/yr employees to build said engine. Or teach a couple marketing students how to connect to an OLAP cube and build some pivot tables in Excel for their senior project in their Marketing 491 class.
In the sense of ROI, Facebook has us all smoked.
Oh, and Joe Park of Kozmo wasn't interested in building a long term company, he wanted to build enough to IPO, sell out, and move on. That's it.
I knew that Netscape doomed from the moment I first time saw their code.
Watch mobile phone or cell phone watch looks like a watch. Please do not think this is just looking at it, in fact, which is a cell phone, cell phone watch
http://www.espow.com/wholesale-cell-phones-chinese-phones-watch-phones.html can receive calls and phone calls, listening to music songs, watching video films, via Bluetooth or USB data cable, games, Internet transfer files in all Internet, etc. It has a full mobile phone functionality, and even more advanced than some of the common mobile phone.
At first glance the NASDAQ is high. But in the USA:
So is food.
So is gold.
So is silver.
So is gasoline.
All of those things are not simultaneously rising by coincidence. There is a simple explanation.
The US$ is just falling. It simply takes more dollars to buy the same amount of commodities or the same amount of OTC stocks. I guess the world noticed what Helicopter Ben was doing and now expect a different number of dollars for the same amount of goods.
I'm not sure how to explain the high P/E ratio, except to say that over time, stocks must yield comparably to other investments after considering risk, so I would agree that the market is somewhat high, but I don't see a tech bubble.
I'm watching the docu on Youtube right now. I think I was way too young then to know this was going on.
Why are we headed for another crash now? Is it because of Facebook?