Posted by: nickgerlich | February 4, 2008

Hall of Precedents

The Super Bowl is upon us once more, and I cannot help but remember all those dotcom advertisers back around the turn of the century. So many of the gang are not here, and it’s not because they passed away from old age. No, every single one expired barely beyond their infancy, victims of an insidious disease that crippled the internet like the Black Plague.

This disease? Youthful enthusiasm, with complications resulting from unbridled optimism and innocent childlike naivete. Misspent youth?

Yes, literally and figuratively.

Pets.comWhile the view over our shoulder is always 20/20, it is still worth taking a peak from whence we came, for the road is littered with the fractured HTML carcasses of many a dotcom start-up that shot out of the cannon a little too fast, and fell far short of its goal.

Among the better known flops is Pets.com, whose sock puppet mascot was more highly regarded than the company itself. Proof positive that memorable advertising does not necessarily lead to sales, Pets.com became roadkill. Who among us wants to buy pet food online when it’s available nearby?

The same goes for Furniture.com and Garden.com, although both domain names have been purchased and relaunched. The former now seeks to connect furniture buyers with local vendors (buying a sofa online is a risky proposition, you know), while the latter is about to relaunch using pretty much the same model as its successor.

Can you say compost heap?

A stroll down Dotcom Memory Lane is a tricky navigational exercise, as there is much to trip over. Disobey.com chronicles the Ghost Sites of the Web, and provides a gallery of screenshots at their Museum of Interactive Failure. I was shocked, for my memory had started to fade.

So why all these premature deaths?

Sure, it’s easy to play the role of Monday Morning Quarterback, but there are some common missteps in the playbook of failure. Among them are:

  • The “build it, and they will come” assumption.
  • The assumption that because it is possible to build websites selling virtually anything, that one should actually do it.
  • Bad fit. Some things just don’t sell well online, by catalog, or over the phone. That’s why we have stores.
  • Undercapitalization, in spite of there being a blizzard of venture capital activity.
  • Too much technology, not enough marketing.
  • What strategic planning?
  • And on a more optimistic note, maybe some of these were just a little too far ahead of their time.

The dotcom implosions a few years ago are really no different from the failures we have seen for years in the Brick-and-Mortar realm, and we will continue to see failures both there and online. It’s just that the internet is like B&M on steroids, a place where everyone and everything is in the fast lane.

Like Moorison, Hendrix, and Joplin, the graveyard of dotcom failures serves as constant reminder of a life lived large and often without purpose or direction. One can only hope that the Facebooks of the Web 2.0 era don’t take the same pills.

Dr “Tangled Web” Gerlich

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