The real story behind the Freeserve Wanadoo deal

A tale of ineptitude, racism and forbidden love

Nicolas Dufourcq and John Pluthero - CEOs of Wanadoo and Freeserve respectively - are in love with each other. At the press conference announcing the two companies' joining of hands (well, outright buy of poorly performing Freeserve), journalists exchanged quizzical looks as John looked Nicolas deep in the eyes and said "we'll share this microphone - as we share everything". Nic waited until later to demonstrate his own love, when he told the assembled cynics that John wouldn't be doing a Hans Snook and leaving soon after France Telecom gets its nasty claws into Freeserve. John's great - he's everything you need in a man. Plus "he's 37. I'm 37."

Actually, seeing as we decided not to attend the conference, we can't be sure about the deep-eye thing. But apart from that. Why didn't we go? Because seeing as we're talking about two large ISPs and content providers, both now owned by a huge telco, we thought we'd check out the conference using the technology they make their money on the back of.

And so, we dialled in on a conference call and we went through all three Web sites offering coverage (Freeserve, Wanadoo and France Telecom unsurprisingly). We were not impressed. In fact, you'll be pleased to know that the Internet is still fundamentally useless when it comes to anything but words. Considering all three companies stake their future on phone calls and Net technology, this is actually a serious point. The conference started 23 minutes late at 11.53 and finished at 1.16pm. This then is a diary account of the whole shambles:

11.25: We call the FRENCH telephone number to listen to the conference taking place just down the road in London. We listen to cheesy macarena music until a sax kicks in and its goes jazzy. Then it gets a bit dancy. Anyway, eventually, at 11.52, the music stops and we can hear American voices.
11.26 to 11.52: We open three browsers for each Web site to try to find the online Web cast. We can't find the news anywhere.
11.53: Nicolas Dufourcq starts talking. The mic's knackered - we can't hear a bleedin thing.
11.56: Nic switches to a different mic. Still nothing on the Web sites.
11.58: Hang on, Wanadoo has a Flash movie on its front page asking you to click it for the conference. We click it. Nothing. Page doesn't exist.
12.00: Link pops up on France Telecom site. We click. Success! A new window opens, asking "Are you a resident in or a citizen of the United States, Canada, Australia or Japan?" No, we're not (all to do with the law regarding financial deals). That was easy - although this is a dodgy legal situation. No, hang about, an extra layer of security: "Please enter your zipcode:". We pretend not to notice that only Americans use the word zipcode. So we tap in the Reg postcode.
12.01: "Sorry, but the laws that govern the offering the securities do not permit those resident in your jurisdiction access to the Information." Eh? We try again. Same thing. Home address. Same thing. Every address we've ever lived in. Nope, nada. Bugger it.
12.03: John Pluthero starts talking.
12.04: The Wanadoo link starts working - but leads to the same circular software that we had with France Telecom's site. Still doesn't work.
12.12: We find the Freeserve link. Select the English option (must have everything in French, see?). Same process as French sites - bit of Javascript. Are you UK resident etc etc? Yes. Enter your postcode. It works! A press release pops up with a link to a Webcast at the bottom. That works too and we've got a RealVideo of the event.
12.15: Sadly, as ever, the RealVideo is beset by congestion problems and next to useless. Sudden thought: maybe the French sites need a French postcode. Try it - nothing.
12.17: Note that the news stories on Freeserve's site referring to previous takeover bids by T-Online etc give you a 404 error. Blimey, that was quick. France Telecom's 1984 tactics have already kicked in.
12.32: Webcast crashes. Browser seizes up. Can't get back in now all the way to the end of the conference. French sites still not working. Rely on phone.
12.45: Stifle yawn. Start eating Pot Noodle.
12.58: Opened up to questions
12.59: Nearly choke on Pot Noodle as John Pluthero explains that Freeserve has got a good deal from Wanadoo. Freeserve has actually outperformed the market. No it hasn't. It wouldn't have got anymore money if it has sold off six months ago. Yes it would. Freeserve has not only got its share price for the company but also a whacking 11 per cent on top! That's not good, John. In fact, it's rubbish and demonstrates just what a dodgy position Freeserve is in. Before Wanadoo saved its arse, it was looking bankcruptcy in the face.
1.04: Daily Telegraph asks if John is going to leave soon. No, he is "absolutely committed to this business". He is "extremely excited and absolutely committed". We shall see.
1.10: Daily Mail asks if the French law that forces radio stations to play a certain amount of French music will affect Freeserve's content. You can already smell the Mail's racist, blinkered, stupid headline.
1.12: Guardian starts asking question.
1.15: Guardian finishes question. No one can work out what the question was.
1.16: The assembled masses of top-ranking IT journalists in the UK can't think of any more questions to ask either Nicolas, John or the CEOs of Dixons, France Telecom or Orange. Maybe we should have gone. Conference ends. Phone cuts off. ®

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