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Dotcom DOA

Serial killers of the new economy

By Annalee Newitz

I FINALLY CAUGHT UP with all the surreal news about Mad Bill and the Microsoft trial, which made me think about Philip K. Dick, who, sadly, died before he could write dark psycho-parodies of our post-mainframe world. Now that Microsoft has been ordered to split up--creating one company in charge of the Evil OS, and one in charge of applications--the über-corporation is starting to resemble the drug-addled, schizophrenic main character of Dick's masterwork, A Scanner Darkly. After dosing himself repeatedly with a drug that induces split-personality disorder, the novel's detective antihero ends up in the strange position of having to narc on himself.

Of course, Microsoft isn't narcing on itself yet, although you know that the I-saw-the-real-Bill screeds and I-was-a-Microshit autobiographies are already in production at Random House. But, Byzantine court appeals aside, there's something very Dickish about the idea that Microsoft has to draw up "blueprints" of what its dismembered corporate body will look like in four months. It's like asking somebody to dig her own grave. And it's a fitting end for a company whose business plan seems to have been inspired by Jeffrey Dahmer.

Speaking of serial killers in the dot-com world, there's a glamorous new website called fuckedcompany.com, which offers what it calls "the dotcom dead pool." Users can wager on what dotcom companies are about to die, and each time you're right, you get a higher score. The players who make the most accurate predictions make it into fuckedcompany's "top one hundred."

Live for just two weeks, during which time users have jumped from 7 to 40,000, fuckedcompany has become the latest touchstone for dotcom angst and a harbinger of the new economy's exuberant nihilism. Everybody I know is playing the game, and the site has been featured on CNN, in The Wall Street Journal and on countless radio shows. With a logo that parodies techno-glam mag Fast Company, fuckedcompany also features delicious little chunks of tabloid news, like the extremely bizarre "you're all fired"
e-mail sent by a CEO to the staff of the recently fucked Reel.com.

Philip Kaplan, the site's mastermind, is--what else?--a dotcommer whose company PK Interactive is nestled in New York's Silicon Alley. Without a hint of irony, Kaplan explains that he did it all for the good of his bootstrapped little multimedia outfit. Now there's some good, healthy, self-narcing schizophrenia for you: Advertise the robustness of your company's technology by building a website about the senselessness of the economic system that funds you.

Kaplan believes PK Interactive will avoid getting screwed because it has absolutely no VC funding and its B2B biz model avoids what he calls the "popularity contest" of e-commerce websites on the Internet. A sure sign that a company will join the fuckedcompany ranks, according to Kaplan, is when "the idea behind it doesn't make sense to your grandmother." The question is: What exactly is it that your grandmother doesn't understand online? "She doesn't know why there have to be five online pet stores," Kaplan explains. "The Internet is a small town, and people have already moved in. Even now, there are websites springing up to imitate ours. And how many stupid betting-on-dotcom-failure websites do you need?"

So why did Kaplan do it, other than a need to banish boredom over Memorial Day weekend? "It's all for PK Interactive. I want people to know how great our backend technology really is."

And then there's the obvious question. How did he manage to get such an obscene URL? "This is the first serious site with a curse word in it that's gained public attention," Kaplan acknowledges. "When the government deregulated the registrars [where you can register a new URL], most of the big registrars like Network Solutions and register.com would filter out URLs with curse words. But there are a couple of microbrew registrars, like my favorite, Optisoft.com, that let you register anything you want."

Kids, this is what it felt like when the barbarian hordes started hurling rocks at the nice statues in ancient Rome. Nobody really knew what was going on at first. It just seemed like pissed-off Visigoths and Vandals doing really creative graffiti. And then, as time passed, it became obvious. The Republic was dead.

And thus it becomes interesting to read about Microsoft and watch the movie Gladiator at the same time. If only Dick could truly explain it all to us.

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From the June 22-28, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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