The Coming Dot-Com Goldmine

As we get very close to Christmas, much of the press that I monitor is getting rather insular, if not downright silly. (Like how about the photos of six famous Czechs and their born-in-2003 babies on the very front page of today’s Mladá fronta dnes (PDF format)?) I guess this is the time of year when nothing much is supposed to happen – at least now that there aren’t that many naughty Communists around, who invaded Afghanistan and then Vietnam in successive Christmas seasons back in the 1970s.

At least it’s also the season for looking back at the preceding year and ahead at what’s to come, something at least potentially of interest to those outside of a given paper’s immediate readership. Germany’s Die Zeit is always a good bet for engaging general-interest content; what caught my eye in its latest issue was Return of the Dot-coms?. Get your business plans ready: “The technology-crash is over, and the Internet is becoming a goldmine again,” writer Thomas Fischermann announces in the article’s lead-in.

But “Is this all only an American phenomenon?” as Fischermann asks rhetorically early in his piece. To this he doesn’t give a direct answer; he just gives a link to the Innovation Professorship at the University of Kiel, which tracks successful German dot-coms (that is, in Germany, Austria, and the German-speaking parts of Switzerland). OK, so there are such successful German dot-coms; still, strangely, the rest of his article concentrates on happenings in the American market, where Fischermann is after all the economic correspondent for Die Zeit.

Get prepared for another surge of Internet-based business ideas – that’s Fischermann’s main message. What with the expansion in Internet access that continued to happen despite the dot-com “crash” of around 2000, he believes that a critical market-mass has been attained for online business. What’s more, now there’s a whole array of “digital” products people are willing to buy on-line: MP3 music files, ring-tones for mobile phones, e-tickets for travel, and the like. And entrepreneurs willing to plunge back into on-line commerce are now wiser – i.e. more practical, like actually on the look-out for incoming revenue streams – than they were in the late 1990s.


So what is hot in e-commerce in particular? Late 2003 is witnessing the usual Christmas e-commerce rush (supposedly up 50% from last year), but Fischermann’s focus is rather on a derived service: the virtual assistant. More and more busy businesspeople find that they don’t have the time to handle their Christmas shopping, even with the Internet at their disposal. So on-line service agencies have sprung up to take care of that chore for them. The article links specifically to Jazz Personal Management, out of Manchester, NH, but asserts that this is just one of many such enterprises springing up on-line to take care of Christmas shopping, birthday- and anniversary-reminding (and, of course, shopping as well), telephone-answering, organizing cleaning services, writing letters, booking travel, keeping a business’ books, and so forth. There’s now even an International Virtual Assistants Association, a loose trade association for such companies, which seem to predominate so far in the US, UK, and Canada. So be on the look-out. And, especially if you’re notin the US, UK, or Canada, think about hopping on this particular bandwagon yourself, for fun and profit.

The next phenomon to watch, according to Fischermann: social network applications. OK, dating services have been out there for a while now, but what we’re talking about how are something rather different, designed to bring people together not necessarily for romance but also for business or other social purposes. Heard of this? The leading such applications are Friendster and Tribe; other related firms, like Spoke and Plaxo, take control of a firm’s address-book and calendar to winkle out hitherto-unknown but potentially useful relations between employees and other firms or otherwise useful people or agencies. But Fischermann raises the “George Orwell question”: Will “social network techniques” show themselves to be virtual incubators of business ideas and partnerships? Or as Big Brother on the Internet?


The final area to which Fischermann would like to draw our attention: data security. Already a number of firms have arisen to secure databases, especially from hackers who would like to steal and/or abuse the information they contain. Many of the services these companies offer go further, though, to screening out spam and suppressing pop-up windows; on-line advertisement, he writes, is becoming a cat-and-mouse game.

At least there is search-term-connected advertising, pioneered by Google (I won’t bother to link to them) and also offered by Overture. But wait! There is even a service out there, from Intermute, that blocks such “sponsored results.”

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