Tom Fallows

Every once in a while, the energy and urgency of this place boils over and the entire system grinds to a halt. Tonight it happened at about 9 during the tail end of the office rearrangement. “Rearrangement” isn’t really the best word; compression is probably more descriptive. Our loft was hollow with 10 people, comfortable with 20, dense with 30, and now that we’re pushing 40, with 50 to 60 expected in the next month, it’s getting downright crowded.

These meltdowns grow out of chain reactions. A few weeks ago, someone learned how to turn our phones into an officewide PA system. First there was a real announcement, then someone played an audio clip, and pretty soon people were humming, burping, and singing into the phones. Then last week I heard reports of a 2 a.m. Vanilla Ice dance/rap fest that helped some folks get through the night. Tonight’s meltdown began right in my corner. Our automobile guy was staring down our office manager, who was trying to seize his file cabinet to make room for another desk. David, our sports editor, took the chance to broadcast a sound clip of “Let’s get ready to rummmmble!” and from there it deteriorated into a playground recess scene that finally settled out to blasting jazz-techno. I escaped getting hit by the Nerf gun.

Since our entire office is one open loft with no cubicles or private spaces, our desks are the only place where people can express their personalities. The move today gave us a good chance to rearrange our setups. Most of the engineers elevate their monitors on soda cans–it’s especially honorable to use empty cans that risk collapsing. We in the production staff have begun to emulate the engineers; my monitor is now teetering on orange juice cans (full). There may be an ergonomic reason behind the elevated screens, but I think it’s mostly for the ghetto look that goes so well with our homemade desks (doors standing on 3-foot studs). Of course, we all have computer envy of Garrett, our template guru, whose monitor is flanked by two computer boxes (one Windows, one Linux), perched on five cans of the power drink Storm (empty), and topped off with a palm frond.

I spent the bulk of my day trying to get a handle on all the bugs that stand between us and launch. Even though our core product is functional, we’ve got about a hundred upgrades that must be done before launch and about a thousand that should be done. But at some point in the next few days we’ll call a halt to the madness with a “code freeze,” after which point we’ll go with whatever we have ready. Until then, it’s pretty much an open market for people to lobby for their favorite improvements. Day 1 on the site might be interesting …

It’s 1:45 a.m. and time to get out of here. I’ve got to think “long term” about the electronics section on the way home–that “long term” is a road map for the next 3 to 6 months. Much beyond that and it’s anyone’s guess as to what will be the state of epinions.com–or the Internet as a whole for that matter.