Internet Crash Rant

by Steven J. Owens (unless otherwise attributed)

The dotcom crash finally happened and I was mildly glad - I knew a lot of people would be inconvenienced in the short term (and yes, I call it inconvenience - you want to see real hardship, look at countries in the throes of civil wars or totalitarian repression) but I was glad we'd finally see the exodus of the snake oil salesmen. Now we can get back to making things work.

I've held my tongue through most of the expected carping about the dotcom bust and the idiots condemning the internet as a fad - I know the internet is a useful technology that's transformed the way we work and play, and I know it's here to stay; it doesn't need me to defend it. But now I'm seeing bullshit about programmers being responsible for the dotcom crash, and I can't keep silent.

How many of those dotcoms do you think were really being run by programmers? I'm talking about the whole boom, now, not just the early ones that were actually trying to put together some sort of technology product. There's an important distinction between the geeks/programmers and the snake oil salesmen (young or otherwise - and sometimes both) running (and in some cases ruining) the businesses.

I'm sure in some cases there were actual programmers or technologists running the start-up, but I'm also relatively sure that those start-ups were at least trying to come up with an actual technology or product to sell. I highly doubt there were geeks at the top of the myriad height-of-the-boom vapor startups, or the numerous dotcoms whose business model seemed to consist entirely of buying up other equally vacuous dotcoms.

I need to make a list, categorized, of the dotcoms:

1) dotcoms that consist entirely of vapour (most often pure marketing plays)

2) dotcoms that exist solely to buy up other dotcoms

3) dotcoms that are just recycled old companies (i.e. web retail without leveraging any of the strengths of the internet)

4) dotcoms that just sell cookie-cutter retreads of ideas pioneered elsewhere.

5) consultants masquerading as software companies masquerading as dotcoms.

6) the real dotcoms, that actually have some sort of idea, even if it's not necessarily a good one.

Certainly, there is some share of the blame to everybody involved - both the stock market investors whose frenzy whipped the market into such an unreal bubble and the ordinary workaday geeks who were holding out for all they could get in salaries and stock options (but then again, what were they supposed to do, quit their jobs and become hermits?). But the lion's share of the blame goes to:

  • the execs (young or otherwise - and often the VCs would insist on
  • bringing in an "older, (in theory) wiser head" to keep
  • things on an even keel) who actually MADE all those STUPID
  • business decisions
  • the VCs who whipped the execs into it so they could IPO, sell off
  • the stock, and dump the company before it went bust
  • the analysts who were supposedly providing third-party objective
  • information and advice but instead were willing and well-paid
  • foils for the VCs and investment bankers
  • the investment bankers who set up all the IPOs and got a major
  • cut of the actual money that changed hands - not the $millions
  • in paper money that the employee options were worth-in-theory
  • (if the stock was still worth that 6 to 12 months later when
  • the employees were finally allowed to sell).

    http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/5637


    >But maybe I'm just bitter because I'm in one of those industries
    >unduley affected by a bunch of spoiled geeks acting wholy
    >irresponsibly.

    See, it's the "spoiled geeks" part that really ticks me off; not just because I am a geek, but because it seems that everybody is forgetting about all of these marketing and money men who damn sure got their golden parachutes. Geeks going from rags to riches makes for a good story, but it has damnall to do with what actually happened, nor why it happened.

    The most blame the geeks have to shoulder (and it's something that EVERYBODY has to shoulder) is that they didn't resign in protest and leave the technology/software/internet industry in disgust at all of this stupidity. Even that's only a small fraction of the geeks; the vast majority of geeks stayed in ordinary jobs out here in the rest of the ordinary ol' world.


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