FuckedCompany and CNET were where the rumors started appearing. We all gossipped like provincial country dames. Several people said they had heard from "people upstairs" that the news was certain. An engineer leaned over to me and said, in a thick Israeli accent, "Did you hear about it? The latest? They're saying that Razorfish is going to buy us."
Then someone walked by my desk and said "You should listen to your voicemail."
I never had voicemail. That in itself was bizarre. So I picked up the phone and played the one message there. It was the same person who had just walked past, saying, "Go look at FuckedCompany.com right now."
I had held out long enough. Sure enough, there was the newest rumor. OmniCom, Razorfish, to buy Organic. Shortly after that, an interoffice email went out. It stated that trading of company stock was closed indefinitely, and that employees were not to discuss this freeze with anyone inside or outside the company. This further stoked the buyout rumors internally. Something leaked to The Industry Standard, which then ran a front page article on it. That provoked the CEO/Founder to send out a tirade about Trust. He'd been in New York with one of the "most important clients" and the first thing they had asked about was a rumor they'd seen on some "questionable" web sites.
He'd also been deeply upset by a banner hung in the engineering department that said "WELCOME HUNTERS" and featured a beer logo. Apparently it had been stolen. In any case, the irreverence of the place, a hallmark of those early web agencies, suddenly seemed to be getting flak from some of the very people who had engendered it in the first place.
Our own manager emphasized that the rumor-mongering must stop. Most of us reacted to that by saying (after she left the room), "Then tell us what the fuck is happening!"
In the creative department, a writer I'll call Jimmy B. joked about getting a betting pool together to speculate on the exact day and time, and another guy exploded, yelling that real people were going to lose their jobs here, and this was not a joke. Jimmy B. cowered and apologized profusely.
In general, managers pretended to ignore the whole thing. In a way, they had to. They went on planning meetings and scheduling deadlines like nothing was amiss.
Until Friday. In engineering, suddenly none of the managers would talk about planning for the following week, as was the normal custom in weekly roundups. The same thing happened in the creative department. The writers took a long lunch, drank beer and shot pool. As people departed that evening, after the usual 4 PM beer bash, there was a Sinking Ship feeling, that this was the end, the last beer bash, the last Friday, the last time to hang out wth coworkers and shoot the shit. All of engineering had departed by 6 PM to adjourn in a nearby bar.
Later that night, or maybe over the weekend, the merger rumor was dispelled by someone working at Razorfish who posted that a coworker had started that rumor just to get a reaction. Of course, the following Monday, a new rumor took its place. This one was that no merger would happen, but layoffs were very likely. It was not anonymous, was attributed to a wonk who had simply analysed the situation and made a prediction.
That rumor was true, and I soon found myself out of work, as did hundreds of other people at the company. So that sinking feeling had definitely been a premonition. I remember the layoff speech during the downsizing round just before my own, in a big empty room of the warehouse the company had recently purchased, where hundreds of newly vacated Herman Miller chairs had been stockpiled. An executive was giving gathered employees the let-em-down-easy news along with a reminder that desks were to be cleared of personal belongings by the end of the day, at which point each employee would need to be escorted out of the building by security.
I went on my way, and it wasn't easy. It was all part of a bigger collapse, one that would be vastly exacerbated by later events, on September 11th Organic persevered through it all. But what a different world we're in now.