[ 20:28 tuesday 24 october – austrian airlines flight 457, vienna to london ]
this afternoon i left a meeting in the middle of vienna and walked into a metro station. on the platform a video screen was announcing that jeffrey skilling, former boss of enron, had been sentenced by the houston courts to twenty-four years in prison. this was a moment i’d been waiting for. i quickly found a cafe with a wireless internet connection, got a link to trampoline hq in london and started putting wheels in motion.
over the last few weeks all of us in trampoline have been getting to know mr skilling and his colleagues via two hundred thousand of enron’s internal emails dating from 1999 to 2002. the archive was released into the public domain during the fraud investigation. earlier this year we needed a large body of data to test the analytic technologies we were developing and jan hit on the idea of using the enron material.
that’s how it started. but there was something hypnotic about the contents of the archive and it gradually took on a life beyond its testbed role. it’s an extraordinary snapshot of a large corporation going about its daily life, with you the viewer able to peek in voyeuristically at every level from the highest executives to the lowest clerical workers. the same mix of the mundane and the bizarre probably exists in any large corporate email system, but normally you don’t get to see it. what strikes one is not so much the pettiness, machismo and cynicism of day to day business; but the way outside life presses in from every side. endless mails organising tickets for baseball matches, fraught messages from kenneth lay’s daughter about arrangements for her marriage, travelogues from mark skilling (jeff’s brother) in istanbul, office romances of varying degrees of sordidness (one couple organised liaisons in a car park). all life is represented.
in the end we decided to put the whole test system on our website so anyone could explore it. we knew skilling’s sentencing was coming up and this seemed likely to be the point when most people would be interested. hence my reaction to this afternoon’s news report. after getting a green light from the team in london i spent the next three hours in the cafe pinging off emails telling people about “enron explorer”. who knows whether anything will come of it. for the next couple of hours i’m cut off from the world.
for anyone interested, you’ll find all the enron emails at http://enron.trampolinesystems.com
: c :