Although New York and San Francisco hog most of the headlines when it comes to new-media hype (and horrors), Los Angeles has a much larger population of potential netslaves -- 181,000 "new-media professionals" in 1998, according to the Carronade Group, which compiles a local multimedia business directory.
And in a business where profits are highly speculative, fundamental employee benefits -- like salaries -- tend to get overlooked. Nadia Conners, a graphics designer in Venice, recalls working for a large local Web development firm where "people weren't paid for months." Instead, the employer dangled "percentages in the company" that never materialized, leading to sundry lawsuits against the owner.
And yet new recruits kept signing up.
Which brings us back to Bill and Steve, who aren't out to badmouth new media in knee-jerk fashion. In fact, they've both gone into business themselves as Internet publishers and consultants. They're just uploading a reality check.
"WHEN I STARTED WORKING IN NEW MEDIA," RECALLS Steve, "I said, 'My God! This is rock & roll all over again. Everyone is driving hard and there's all this creative activity.' Where's it going to lead? Are we all going to be stars? No. But hopefully we'll be able to earn a living."
And maybe become the next Jerry "Yahoo" Yang along the way, confidently beaming that sorbet aura to the wired world?
"No," he says. "It's more like working at a filling station on the information superhighway: You're pumping gas into the engines of commerce."