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May 7, 1998

sidewalk.home will challenge Spare Change for Boston-area readers

BOSTON — In the latest in a series of competitive forays into community media, Microsoft launched a homeless e-zine yesterday. The new site, called sidewalk.home, is designed to steal readers and advertising dollars from lucrative homeless print newspapers like Boston’s Spare Change.

“Print is dead,” said Kevin Hansen, product manager for sidewalk.home. “Spare Change and the other print homeless papers are getting rich off of an outmoded business model, and it’s high time that they had some competition. Besides, the ‘Net is a perfect vehicle for a homeless ‘zine, because the homeless are the ultimate cyber-citizens. They’re not tied down to one place. They’re not constrained by traditional ‘bricks-and-mortar’ ways of thinking.”

As usual, Microsoft isn’t venturing into the homeless media market half-heartedly. The company has recruited scores of homeless authors from cities around the nation to live in the ‘Microsoft Project,’ a custom-built high-tech slum in the heart of the company’s Redmond, WA headquarters. While offering no affordable housing or social services, the Project is wired with ‘fiber to the curb,’ providing lightning-fast Internet access for those homeless who have laptops.

In contrast to other homeless papers, whose homeless authors tend to write gritty testimonials to the hardships of life on the street, Microsoft’s authors tend to write gritty testimonials to the power of Microsoft’s consumer and business software products.

“Out on the street, they call me ‘The Professor,’ because I’m a preacher of street knowledge,” wrote one author. “But what they don’t know is that the source of my street knowledge is the Microsoft Encarta CD-ROM encyclopedia — only $29.95 at local retailers!”

“I been out on the street for over 25 years,” wrote another sidewalk.home author recently. “Sleeping on grates, being hassled by cops, with nowhere to lay my head, it’s all made me tough as a dog. But there’s one thing I’ve learned most of all — when you need fast database development you can’t beat Microsoft Visual C++ 5.0 Enterprise Edition! It lets you remotely review tables, queries, and stored procedures from any ODBC-compliant database.”

Hansen brushes off complaints that the online magazine, which is free, will cut into the charitable mission of print magazines like Spare Change. “I’m a good example,” he said. “I never used to stop and buy homeless magazines — I never had the time. But using sidewalk.home I can, whenever and wherever I choose, drop some CyberCash into the homeless’s e-cups.”

The CyberCash can be redeemed for images of food or shelter, which can either be viewed online or downloaded to the lucky recipient’s PC. “I especially like the JPEG of the split-level condo on the Cape,” said Hansen. “I’d be proud to have that baby on my own hard drive.”

Microsoft’s marketing push for sidewalk.home is already spelling trouble for some print competitors. In Boston, the loss of key advertisers has forced Spare Change to move to an online format themselves. Without a paper to sell, their homeless salespeople now spend their days trying to lure passers-by to Internet kiosks.

Spare Change publisher Scott Borden says that the transition has been difficult. “We changed the name to, but someone had already registered it,” said Spare Change publisher Scott Borden. “We had to buy it from them for $50,000. Now that we’ve hired six web developers and negotiated banner ad deals with search engines, there’s not much left for paying the homeless, I’m afraid.”

On the upside, Spare Change has gone public and is now worth $750 million.


Signs indicate that Microsoft may also be planning to lauch a humor e-zine. For the past year and a half, the software giant has been quietly amassing a vast storehouse of ‘humor properties.’ These holdings give the company exclusive humor rights to hundreds of inherently funny things, including:

• “The Jeffersons”
• Whitesnake
• Esperanto
• ‘P-Dope’
• the Book of Leviticus
• Tuck Everlasting
• The difference between men and women
• Le Car

Humorists should check their jokes carefully for Microsoft-owned material.

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