On March 25, 2000 at 11am, my doorbell rang. It was FedEx with a package I had to sign for. I opened it up and found an About.com towel, canvas bag, T-shirt, and hat. …then I went back to bed.
Later that weekend, I got a call from Matt, our fearless leader from RivalWorks, with an actual offer from About.com. There was a generous raise in it for me and I had to go to their ExpertCentral.com office in Newton on Monday. Okay, whatever. We’d meet at the RivalWorks office and find our way over from there.
The First Day
On Monday, March 27, I woke up and looked at the ExpertCentral web site for the first time in my life. …and then I headed out to work as its Webmaster. Everyone from RivalWorks showed up at the old office one last time. When we arrived, Matt called us into a meeting and told us that Doris would not be joining us. Apparently ExpertCentral didn’t want an office manager (even though they definitely could have used one!) Matt also told everyone that he tried to get them all large raises, but none of them ended up being as large as mine. (Gee, thanks for singling me out like that.)
As we arrived at ExpertCentral, we were put in the conference room and asked to fill out form after form after form. Nick wasn’t interested in working for About.com and left for parts unknown. Meanwhile, we continued to fill out the forms, but still wondered what our jobs would be. Only a couple of us had actually interviewed with these guys. The rest of us were still completely in the dark. …and what would happen to our unused vacation time from RivalWorks? (We never did get paid for that…which is against Massachusetts law. Any lawyers out there wanna help us out?)
Hours later, some soggy pizza arrived and ExpertCentral employees were herded into the room to meet us. Most of them didn’t even know About.com had bought RivalWorks until that morning.
Before the week passed, Kathy and I started working with Eric and Cindy on a site redesign. The old home page was 110k on the day we started. By the time we finished with the redesign, it was down to about 35k. The new look was up on the site within three weeks of us starting at ExpertCentral.
Behind the scenes, Mac and Brian were up at Corporate Technologies, Inc. working on the back-end conversion. The whole site would be converted from ColdFusion (boo!) to Perl (yay!). Once the conversion was done, we’d end our relationship with CTI and bring all development in-house. Pinkney, the former Technology Director from RivalWorks, had one job: to hire more Perl developers. He showed up late to two interviews and missed another one completely. This wasn’t too unusual as he had been seen sleeping behind a newspaper a couple times and would regularly show up around 11:30am and leave before 4:00pm. (Several times he didn’t even show up at the office until about 3pm…and he’d still leave at 4pm.)
Weeks went by and eventually the site was ready to be tested. Eric, Cindy, Kathy, and I worked to test the site and report bugs which would then be fixed. In one of the weekly meetings, Pinkney estimated that the site would be done within a week. With more than 20 bugs remaining, there was no way that could happen. A week later, the site was not ready. It probably would have taken another week…a week and a half on the outside. Pinkney was finally fired in mid-June.
As a result of Pinkney’s firing, About decided to start its own development on ExpertCentral out of their New York office. They hired a developer down there and before long it was revealed that he would be starting from scratch. Even though only a week of work was needed to get the new site running and abandon the ColdFusion version, About.com actually wanted to start over!
This left Eric, Cindy, Kathy, and myself without much to do. We updated the look of the ExpertCentral site to look more like About.com, but that was about all we could do. Weeks passed.
In mid-July, work started on a site specification. Not only were they starting over with the conversion, but they hadn’t even begun! The developer they hired hadn’t written one line of code! It turns out that Phil (the new CEO after Greg moved to some mysterious strategy department) had been sitting on it for three weeks. By the time we got ahold of it, it had to be done in three days! After we thought we were done with it, the specification came back and went through endless rounds of revision before anything even started. At the end of August, the specification still wasn’t done!
The Axe Falls
At the end of July, rumors filtered down that Steve Gordon, founder of About.com’s other “expert” site, AllExperts.com, was leaving. Since the plan was to combine ExpertCentral and AllExperts in this new version, he didn’t want any part of it.
On the first Monday of August, we found out that About.com wanted to fire the recruiters. Since About.com’s plan was to have experts for every guide site, we knew that was a bad idea. There weren’t nearly enough expert categories to cover all the guide sites. Thousands of experts would be need to be recruited. Who would do this if they were gone? That Thursday, Meg and Phil went to New York to try to save the recruiters…
I was on vacation at a family reunion when they returned on Friday with bad news: I was fired. Kathy informed me by e-mail that she, Cindy, and myself were all fired. If I was there, I would have been fired too. Without us, there was nobody left to update the ExpertCentral web site!
When I went in on Monday, I was PISSED OFF! I mean, why wouldn’t I be?! I headed straight for Phil’s office and said, “WHAT THE FUCK?!”
I probably should have quit right there and left them without any way to update their web site, but since I had rent to pay, I opted to stay on for a while. I eventually found that I had until August 31st and had to teach Susan how to update the site.
When Eric returned from vacation, he was “encouraged to resign”. Jaime saw the writing on the wall and quit on his own. (It’s a BAD sign when a web site fires their web development staff. Bad enough to appear on FuckedCompany.com.)
Less than a week after my last day, on Wednesday, September 6, they fired everyone else…including someone who was five months pregnant! Apparently they convinced Steve Gordon to stay on with About.com at the expense of all the jobs at ExpertCentral.
That night, ExpertCentral sent out an e-mail encouraging experts to sign up with AllExperts.com. The flaw in their plan is that the URL they provided allowed experts to enter their own experience! “You’re ‘Platinum’ with 150 questions and 5 stars? Okay! If you say so!”
Later in the news, About.com claimed that there were “acquisition duplications”. This is a big ol’ lie since the actual acquisition was NINE MONTHS earlier. There was no duplication at all, except for Steve Gordon himself since he was the only person running AllExperts. They also said, “We were trying to do [our] best by everybody up there.” How so? By firing us? Except for three people, EVERYONE was fired with no other option available.
About.com purchased eight companies in the last year. I worked for two of them. Neither exist anymore, neither company’s technology is being used anywhere, both offices were vacated, and only three employees who worked for those companies still work for About.com. What kind of acquisition strategy is that? Sounds like a damn stupid one to me.
Do the world a favor. Boycott About.com. Thank you.