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ArsDigita was a web development company cofounded by Philip Greenspun, Tracy Adams, Ben Adida, Eve Andersson, Olin Shivers, Aurelius Prochazka, and Jin Choi and was started in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the mid-1990s. The company produced a popular Open Source toolkit, the ArsDigita Community System (ACS), for building database-backed community websites, and flourished at the peak of the Internet bubble. ACS was also the roots of OpenACS, which added PostgreSQL as a database option and gave the system a fully open-source stack.
The founders of the ArsDigita Corporation also set up a nonprofit organization, the ArsDigita Foundation, which sponsored the ArsDigita Prize, a yearly programming contest for high school students and, in 2000, a free physical school teaching an intensive one-year course in undergraduate computer science.
Recruiting was touted heavily by Greenspun, and Ars Digita became notorious among the "elite geeks" as a place where recruiting could result in significant payoffs. During the spring of 1999, for example, recruiting 5 hires would earn the employee a Honda S2000. Recruiting 10 employees would net a Ferrari F355. A trophy F355 in bright yellow was kept parked outside of the Prospect Street office in Cambridge to entice employees into recruiting. Later in the summer of 1999, as new management was brought on board, the policy was quietly changed to a lease of the cars, not outright ownership.
Recruiting was performed nationally, with four tiers of hiring, ranging in salary from $80,000 to $150,000 annually. Potential recruits were required to submit solutions to a handful of problem sets used in an Internet application development course at MIT. Some of these problem sets required the use of the Oracle object-relational database management system behind Web pages. Others were basic computer science problems such as computing a Fibonacci series recursively using the Tcl programming language.
Approximately 180 Ars Digita employees were hired at the company's peak, but with the crash of the dot com economy, many of ArsDigita's clients went out of business. Others cut back heavily on their technology initiatives. The weight of payroll and offices in Cambridge, Berkeley, California, Washington D.C., and Ann Arbor, Michigan soon overwhelmed the company. The Ann Arbor office was closed in September, 2000, with the other offices following over the next few months.
Ars Digita's Cambridge office had a fully stocked kitchen on each floor, and a full game room with a pinball machine. The pinball machine was a Pinball 2000 model.
ArsDigita took $38 million in venture capital investment from Greylock and General Atlantic in 2000 to provide working capital for expansion of its product line. Greenspun said the venture capitalists staged an internal coup to drive the founders out of the management structure and installed incompetent professional managers with little idea of how to run a software products company, resulting in the collapse of the company and a lawsuit between the founding shareholders and the venture capitalists over control of management. Michael Yoon, who was an ArsDigita employee at the time, said ArsDigita had other management problems as well. The lawsuit was settled out of court on undisclosed terms, but unconfirmed sources indicated that Greenspun's take was ~$7M.
ArsDigita is unrelated to Ars Technica, despite the similarity in name.
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