Operator No. 9: September 3, 2001
Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!
Like the shattered remains of Ozymandias empire, the remnants of Internet companies past still litter our civilization. And no, Im not talking about eBay auctions. Before Kozmo.com folded in April, it had distributed hundreds of metal drop-boxes for customers to return their video rentals at Starbucks and other stores in the cities in which it operated. Well, not all of those metal boxes were collected post-bankruptcy. At Susies Kitchen, a delicatessen on Park Avenue in New York City, a battered Kozmo box still sits next to a table with cookies and fruit. But it continues to serve a useful function: Susies uses it as a stand for the waxed-paper dispenser.
I got it wrong. I speculated that the next release of Windows, code-named Longhorn, might have borrowed the name for the new operating system from the Texas cattle breed. Im told by several readers that the true naming story goes like this: "The code name for Windows XP is Whistler. The next big release code name is Blackcomb. Whistler and Blackcomb represent two skiing mountains in British Columbia [Canada] that are very close to each other. In between the two mountains, in the village of Whistler, you will find a bar called the Longhorn Saloon [http://longhorn.whistler.net]. So, the Longhorn name represents the code name for the in-between release of Whistler/Blackcomb." Microsoft OS engineers drink? Well that explains a lot.
Having never been to Minnesota, I didnt know that, for the past 35 years, the American Dairy Association of Minnesota has had a tradition of carving the likenesses of several dairy princesses in butter for the Minnesota State Fair. This year, butter-sculpture admirers were in for an added treat. Gearworks, a wireless application developer, decided to get creative. It commissioned a 50-pound, 24-inch-high replica of a Palm VIIx handheld for the fair, hiring sculptor Linda Christensen to carve it out of an 85-pound whey butter block. No, whey? Yes, whey. "With the tightening economy, were finding that weve had to make much harder decisions about where to spend our dollars. This event was extremely low-budget, yet over 1 million people will actually visit the booth during the 10 days of the fair," says Gearworks Rob Davis. Add to that the fact that Palm decided to help with promotion, and the butter no, whey Palm starts to make marketing sense. Gearworks even dreamed up 10 things to do with it. No. 6: Reading butter-Palm-compatible book titles during the long commute home.
It wasnt all bad news for most of the 500 employees of iPlanet the alliance between Sun Microsystems and AOL Time Warners Netscape Communications who were laid off by AOL last month. A Sun exec says the company immediately opened up 300 positions, and expects to open up a total of more than 400 positions to accommodate displaced iPlanet employees until Sun takes iPlanet over when the alliance expires on March 17, 2002. That should make up for some of the sour taste left in their mouths by AOL, which informed the media of the 500 layoffs but waited an additional two days to deliver the news to the iPlanet employees directly.
Several weeks have passed since Jeffrey Skilling unexpectedly quit as Enrons CEO. And speculation is growing in Houston and elsewhere that Skillings departure after just six months on the job was due, in large part, to the companys faltering broadband strategy. Skilling heavily promoted Enrons $500 million-plus investment in its fiber-optic network. He also convinced a bunch of Wall Street analysts that by getting into broadband, Enron had a license to print money. But after the companys broadband unit lost $102 million in the second quarter, Skillings days were numbered. "Look," says one official of a prominent Houston energy firm, "For two years, Skilling told everybody the bandwidth business was going to be the Next Big Thing. Then it falls flat. You cant do that." In a recent interview with the Houston Chronicle, Skilling continued to insist his reason for leaving Enron was to spend more time with his family. Asked about the broadband business, he admitted he "didnt realize it would get this bad this fast. Who would have thought? Everybody blew it. I blew it, too." Well, at least his family gets to spend some time with dad.
Worried about good ol Al Gore? Wondering how the Prince of the Palm device has occupied his time since the election? Sure, you can go to Google and do a search to extract smatterings of post-election coverage. But youd be better off tapping into the site willed into being by a California woman who may be Gores biggest fan. Janet Hessert, 38, started talking about cobbling together a Gore fan site right after the Supreme Court decision, and formally launched Al-Gore-2004.org on Presidents Day. Its got all of the recounts of the Florida ballots that were done by news and other organizations after the election. It has up-to-date Gore news. It even has a mocked-up picture of Gore looming over the White House and calling President George W. Bush "smirk boy." In an interview, Hessert called the site, which has absolutely no formal connection to Gore or the Democratic Party, a "full-time, nonpaying job." Hope her labor of love does not go unrequited when Gore announces his inevitable White House bid again.
Contrary to the dire prognostications of couch potato defenders, Internet usage is actually driving more people to watch television. So says PricewaterhouseCoopers in a report on global entertainment and media. The firm said 25 million people logged on to the Net in 2000 while watching TV, up from 18 million in 1999. "With more programming linking their on-air and Web site content . . . Internet use and TV are becoming more compatible instead of competitive," the report said, noting the hits at Web sites for Survivor and X-Files. Say what you will about the culture, hell and a handbasket, at least all those folks arent in their cars driving around talking on their cell phones.
Gone, but Not Forgotten
Like the battered Kozmo.com drop box, remnants of departed dot-coms continue to pop up in the strangest places. Here in Silicon Valley, lots of kiddies returned to school before Labor Day wearing baseball caps, T-shirts and even backpacks from some of the dot-gone. Several elementary school teachers told me about their big summer scores. Thanks to friends who worked at the dot-gones, they were able to pick up boxes of office supplies, including color-coordinated staplers, scissors, tape dispensers, and even company letterhead and envelopes. The consensus: New Economy companies were really into Post-It Notes of all colors and sizes. Too bad someone there forgot to read the reminder that said, "Come up with good business plan."