If small is beautiful, what about Word?

OK. If small is beautiful, why did the perennial critics’ darling of content sites, Word, bite the dust recently?

An also-ran, overshadowed by Slate, Salon, even Feed, but more famous than Mappa Mundi, Teeth, and the more latterly Iron Minds, Word was always a tough read, a form of Difficult Listening Hour, to paraphrase Laurie Anderson. Five or so years ago, we could not believe what the Word kids were doing with HTML and graphics – a yellow happy face that looked straight at you for a minute or two, then rotated and stayed put for a minute or two, then rotated again, and so on, remains in our memories.

Anyway, in August, the perennially clueless fish-powder manufactuer Zapata pulled the plug for the last time. Founder Marisa Bowe kept telling interviewers that Word didn’t make a profit and was never intended to. In cases like these, unfortunately we have to side with milquetoast standard-bearer Michael Kinsley: You need a rich parent. A site like Word is akin to Woody Allen films: They don’t earn their money back, but they earn the parent monolith credibility.

So why isn’t some smart media or technology company racing to snap up Word, the way Boo.com’s remains were bought for next to nothing? Because we can’t name any smart media or technology companies – not off the tops of our heads, anyway.

Posted on 2000-09-30