Friday, September 07, 2001

The Cyber Scene in Seattle ~ by Larry Sivitz

When the going gets tough, Seattle's toughest get going to...Safeco Field? 

While Microsoft stock took a beating on the Nasdaq the day before Labor Day weekend, and reports continued to circulate that the European Union was expanding its investigation against the juggernaut, were the 20,000 Microsofties who gathered at Safeco Field for the company's annual employee meeting, well, glum? Get a clue! They whooped and cheered as if they were watching the Mariners hit the ball out of the park and notch up another win in extra innings! 

Making his pitch from the middle of the ball field, Chairman Bill Gates looked like the latest closer out of the M's bullpen as he laid out his vision for computing in the coming decade. Company Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, who leapt out of a cake at last year's 25th-anniversary meeting, gave an impassioned speech about the opportunities facing the company and employees. On the stadium's diamond-vision? Why, demo's from upcoming X-Box software, of course. 

This has been a year of identity diffusion for Seattlelites, with Boeing relocating its corporate headquarters to Chicago, and Microsoft headlining the public enemies list, not to mention the potential anti-trust duopoly initiative in the music space occupied by MusicNet and Pressplay. Still, the Web-footed among us have not lost our sense of purpose, or of humor. 

Case in point: Last Spring, two young Russian hackers were arrested and indicted after the FBI set up a bogus Internet-start-up firm in Seattle, aptly called "Invita," and let the men hack into it. They were quickly UnInvita.
And the Emerald City (that's E-city to you and me) is rapidly becoming the Internet gaming capitol of the world. I don't just mean Microsoft's penultimate X-Box. Each day, RealNetwork's RealArcade attracts and retains enough game "buyers" to fill Seattle's Husky Stadium to the roof -- people who not only enjoy playing games online, but who have also downloaded one or more virtually shrink-wrapped demo's for offline play. Can you say "new game sales and distribution model?" 

In fact, RealArcade is much more than the world's up-and-coming biggest game store. It's also the engine of a complete online gaming system that can help users download, install and manage their game play. And it's the platform for a dazzling array of Web-based games, including Smallball (imagine "The Sims," Major League Baseball and Tamagotchi rolled into one). The success of your team of miniature sim-ulated baseball players depends on how long and how well you train them and develop their personalities as time goes by. 

Microsoft's Gaming Zone is also seeing its casual gaming audience swell. Brand new from "The Zone," those wonderful folks who brought you the 6,000 player VGA (Virtual Golfer's Association) and the fantasy role-playing adventure known as Asheron's Call, comes a new celebrity-based game show called "OutSmart." The "PC Gameshow" challenges players to test their pop culture knowledge against the stars themselves-and attempt to beat them at their own fame. The "OutSmart" pilot episode starred TV's 'Dark Angel" and top cyber-babe Jessica Alba. Upcoming celebrity challengers include Grammy award-winning reggae musician Shaggy, the last decade's biggest-selling female Mariah Carey, double platinum hip-hop star Sisqo and the Soul Train Music Award host and R&B singer Mya. A new episode featuring a different celebrity will air twice a month with previous games available for play in the "OutSmart" Gallery. 

Even Sierra has jumped into the "game show" business as the software manufacturer behind the plethora of "You Don't Know Jack" trivia games, now being supported by a new prime time television show of the same name.
On the simmering cyber social scene, impresario Khody Golshan of PR firm MWW Savitt continues to host the local chatterati every two weeks at Dot.tales and Cocktails, his biweekly soirees' held amidst the luxurious flora and decor of the Garden Court inside Seattle's original grande dame - The Four Season's Hotel. Or you can catch the dot.tales Net set at the bohemian Zig-Zag Club on the Pike Place Hill Climb. Last month, Khody could also be found shmoozing at the bar of Dimitriou's Jazz Alley with none other than Woody Allen when the latter's dixieland jazz band pulled into town for a rousing two-night gig. 

One of Seattle's most outgoing Internet groups is the Seattle Network (, founded by impresarios Dan Sundgren and Kristine Asin (co-founder Tim Reha having moved on to the Seattle Investor Forum). SON's third-Tuesday membership meetings have attracted the otherwise un-unified local community of Internet-related workers. It's easy to see why: gatherings have been held at venues such as Safeco Field, the Seattle Aquarium and the Museum of Flight. 

Success for some of Seattle's special-interest groups has not been without growing pains, however. When Betsy Aoki, a user-interface designer with Pacific Edge Software, founded the Seattle chapter of jWebgrrls International six years ago, there were about a half-dozen women in the free-membership group. Roughly a year later, WGI grew to 800, and last fall the chapter totaled about 3,300 women. Around that time, membership dues were mandated by the national Webgrrls office, sparking a city-wide debate on the dot-org's profit-oriented (vs. non-profit) status and the Webgrrls e-mail list-an unsurpassed source of local job openings and tech support-was temporarily shut down to restructure and reorganize. Before the cyberdust settled, though, many women had already left to join Digital Eve ( , another women's technology organization that, for the most part, operates fee-free. Since taking over the Seattle Chapter, Webgrrl's new leader, Jeanette Stanhope, has brought a new sense of purpose to the group - finding its members gainful employment and career resources. 

For sheer altitude, the pinnacle of the Seattle Cyber Scene has to be the quarterly TechViews events organized by Chase Norlin, CEO of, in conjunction with the Tower Club inside Seattle's largest skyscraper, the Bank of America Center. Convened on the 75th and 76th floors of the tower, the spreads are lavish, VC's charming and the cigar smoke intoxicating full inside the designated cigar, deal and port room. Former ZDNet Anchorman Jesse Berst is a frequent master of ceremonies, Goldman Sachs an ongoing sponsor.
Go Mariners! (For high-quality, imported, northwest Web marketing talent, correspondent Larry Sivitz can be recruited from or