Net Slaves: True Tales of Working on the Web


In the introduction, the authors admit that this book was turned down by countless publishing houses with the objection: ‘Who cares? Who wants to read about techies pissed off at their jobs?’

Co-author Bill Lessard says he is a ‘living testament to the fact that most Internet careers are nasty, brutish and short’. So, angry at the American media’s obsession with success, the book’s raison d’être is to ‘set the record straight’ with accounts from real people at real Internet companies whose lives have very nearly been wrecked by their jobs.

Why is it worth reading?

This was an inevitable book, given all that we know about the sleazy underbelly of the Internet industry. The cases are all US-based and sometimes become so dramatic that one is forced to wonder if there is a director and film crew somewhere in the background.

The authors have discovered first-hand that the Internet industry has a very real pecking order or ‘caste system’. It is unclear whether the book is saying ‘beware!’ or whether it is simply an act of revenge.

Every story is gripping, ‘stranger than a Hunter Thompson nightmare’, according to the sleeve, yet the characters are curiously unlovable. At times one is forced to speculate why they would endure such stress and the need to scream something like ‘for God’s sake give it up and become a hairdresser’ becomes quite a distraction.

Talking points

The book cannot be classed as required reading for all those thinking of joining the net industry, because the stories have an extreme feel to them and it is hard to believe that they represent the norm, especially in the UK.

Net Slaves might have provided a healthy dose of reality and truly inspired people to take notice of the issues involved if it had been written in a more sober style.

But there’s the dilemma. To be harsh, the authors needed a way to make a potentially boring subject interesting and the quoted passages below should illustrate the style they adopted to do this.


‘This beat was stressful enough before, when the online service kept all the racy, anarchic conversations ghettoized in one chat room in order to keep the rest “family friendly”. But tonight, the owners decided upon a final solution for that ghetto: deletion. Now the refugees, locked out and angry, are swarming into other chat rooms like rioters storming into the suburbs to pillage its virgin daughters. Devil-worshippers flood the Spirituality forum; references to masturbation and pedophilia rear up in the Teen Talk chat room and it’s your job to stamp them out like roaches. How much can you and your fellow overworked, underpaid “cybercops” take? You find the answer when another “cop” starts waving a real gun…’

‘People are nuts, whatever their profession, but people forced to work like dogs with the carrot of stock options and untold wealth dangling under their noses are especially nuts.’


Bill Lessard has written for the Industry Standard and CNET and had spent years as a ‘net slave’ for Prodigy, Pathfinder and a variety of start-ups, before joining the Union Bank of Switzerland.

Steve Baldwin has been an editor at PC Magazine, Computer Shopper, and Pathfinder. He developed Ghosts Sites of the Web, a webzine devoted to failed web sites.


Net Slaves: True Tales of Working the Web, by Bill Lessard and Steve Baldwin, is published by McGraw-Hill.

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