By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Even without money, new ideas proliferate. "I'm really thinking about content," says Brian Massey, still staring off into some distant point on the horizon he apparently thinks of as the future. "I've spent a lot of time optimizing images and shrinking files and trying to keep download low -- that's what I spend a lot of my time doing and thinking about. It's all about getting people there, getting them comfortable with watching a little screen."
Massey isn't just talking about the average 19-inch computer monitor. He's now got his sights on the cell phone. Part of the reason the Web has failed as an entertainment venue is that people don't want to sit in front of their computers, especially when they've come home from a job where they likely spent the better part of the day at one. Put that same content on a device as small as a mobile phone, and it becomes a way of coping with a society of long lines and commutes. "You see it all over Japan," Massey says, "people on the bus, standing on the street, playing games on their little devices."
With that in mind, Massey has cooked up a business plan with his roommate and friend, Mike Reed, currently associate producer at L-squared Entertainment. "The wireless-content business is what I'm really keeping my fingers crossed on," he says. "We want to create 10 content services for Japanese teenagers on i-mode 3g [third generation] cell phones for the NTT DoCoMo network in Japan." In this country, cell-phone technology has been mired at 2g for nearly a decade; Europe and Japan, on the other hand, have nearly advanced to 4g -- fast enough to "zap a DVD in a couple of minutes on a phone." Seventy-two percent of all cell-phone users in Japan connect to the Internet while mobile, compared with only 6 percent in the U.S.
While i-mode technology can read something called "cHTML" (the "c" stands for "compact"), it's currently available only in Japan. Another way of making the Web mobile is to use WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), which has the support of some 500 companies in countries all over the world. But WAP requires transferring the whole Web, all 6 billion pages of it, to WML (Wireless Markup Language), a task that would require millions of hours of labor and hordes of manpower. Massey sees a future for himself here, too. "We have a nice little team if we can pull it off," he says. "It's the phones that people are going nutty over. All these peripheral devices are going to come together with the phones at the center. Just wait."
IN THE MEANTIME, MASSEY IS looking for a job "as a Flash guy with seven years of film-production and storyboarding experience." And he's hopeful. His cell phone plays Für Eliseto alert him there's a call, and he has a hushed conversation. The next day, he calls to tell me what it was about: "This is on the lowdown, man," he says, "but I've got a meeting tonight. A good one."
Massey's former boss at Soundbreak, Brian Frank, is working with an anonymous collaborator to develop a sitcom about the dot-com life. "We're using our experience from working in the new media industry to create a satire for television," he says.
And Fiona Ng is taking a vacation. "I don't think the dot-com industry did me wrong," she says. "It opened up a lot of opportunity for me. It allowed me to experience a culture of work that wasn't corporate, and to get experience in the work force I wouldn't have had. A lot of people are telling me to go offline now. We're all going back to traditional media," even if it takes some time to break into the field. "I have a low overhead," says Ng. "That idea of being a young urban billionaire -- it was never part of my mythology."
Massey isn't worried, either, at least not for himself personally. But he still grieves a little for the dreams he shared with the people he worked for, the people who thought the dot-com would change the habits of consumers forever. "This dot-com era, it was a $1.7 trillion research project in humility," he says. "It's a hard lesson, man. A hard lesson."