Cybercrime

OPINION

Make Way for Some Real Dot-Com Comebacks

Every now and then, just for kicks, I type the Kozmo.com URL into my browser. I’m not sure what I expect will happen, but the result is always the same: nothing.

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but given the comebacks of late — Furniture.com and MotherNature.com, for example — isn’t it about time for the return of some truly interesting dot-coms?

One thing is for sure: I’m not alone. Every five or six weeks, it seems, someone publishes a “rumor” that the Kozmo concept has been revived or is being shopped to investors. Nothing has come of those rumors yet, but hope springs eternal.

Keep It Real

Kozmo falls into the “interesting” category for a number of reasons, most of which have already been chronicled in books and films about the dot-com debacle. Who needs the real thing?

Well, I do. Not that I ever used Kozmo. That’s not the point at all. What’s important is that Kozmo had a business model that was truly wacky — and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Consider the facts in this light: All Kozmo was, really, was a bike messenger service on steroids. Yet investors pumped tens of millions of dollars into it on the way up, and companies that should have known better, including Starbucks, tripped over themselves in a rush to forge partnerhips with the delivery dynamo.

The Times

Wacky business models, in case you didn’t notice, are not exactly all the rage these days. But that, at least to my way of thinking, is all the more reason to have at least one making the rounds.

When outlandish was the norm, Kozmo was just another face in the crowd. In 2002, with investors and startup executives actually wearing ties to work, being outlandish would make Kozmo stand out the way it should have all along.

Keep It Coming

While we’re at it, there must be a way to bring Napster back from the dead.

Not the label-friendly Napster Lite that Bertelsmann has grabbed at a fire-sale price. The real Napster — the one that made everyone with a computer feel like a Wild West outlaw, downloading frantically and knowing there was some small chance the police would kick down the door any minute.

Instead, though, dot-com resurrections seem focused on concepts that might actually work. And the second version is invariably a pale, tasteless echoof the first, like rice cakes and carrot sticks substituted for steak and potatoes. Good for investors? Sure. Tasty? Not very.

Fluffy, Not Stuffy

There’s a perfect example of that tradeoff on the content front: LocalBusiness.com, which burned through untold millions in venture funds before cowering behind bankruptcy protection.

The company had to fail, mind you. Its bread and butter was the copious venture funding of silly startups — and that is now as much a part of history as Hewlett-Packard.

Still, the site’s new owners seem to lack any ambition whatsoever beyond using the domain name and a few thousand archived stories to hold surfers still long enough to sell them sales leads.

Again, this is not a bad idea. It might actually work. But it’s not exactly replete with sizzle.

And without the sizzle, the dot-com world becomes no more than a digital version of the offline business world. Is that what the rest of the world really wants, or needs?

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

2 Comments

  • In the begining, the dotcom boom was merely an attempt by Generation "X" to capitalize on their sole pastime – gaming. That explains why that period 1998-2000 was indeed so much "fun". Generation "X" has been forced into sobriety and the result is, indeed, that the fun has been eliminated and replaced with "need for results". It remains to be seen if the next generation of E-Commerce can discover that true E-business/E-Commerce, implemented properly, is a more intoxicating paradigm than anything the first dotcom generation could ever have turned out with their "fantasies".
    For this to happen, the revisionists must temper the notion of the web as an electronic facade for bricks and mortar with a clear understanding of the holistic nature of E-business. This is a different approach, but these differences were lost on the first generation- who were far more intent on living out their fantasies of being "E-Moguls" -parlaying VC capital into No-Return-On-Investment.

    • Moody,
      I’m not sure what generation you are from, but your bitterness toward Generation X is clear. Just remember which generation funded all of our "whacky" ideas. You make it seem as though there were a bunch of kids running AM ok with their mom’s purses. Truth is, investors from ALL generations were clamoring over each other to capitalize on this hind-sightedly-named whacky climate, with the bulk of funding coming from the world’s uh….financial veterans. I believe there to be much truth to your approach to the next run at e-business, but your tone only makes you sound like a bitter old baby boomer who probably lost a few bucks on baloneysandwich.com. I think you would do well to spread the blame around a bit more. My .02 cents

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