Throwback Thursday: The Internet In 2000 – Don’t Burst My Bubble

Pets.com Puppet

According to MarketWatch, Pets.com was killed by its own puppet.

The year 2000 was a terrifying time on the internet. Especially if you were a VC who had a bunch of money in it. The irrational exuberance of the era was so infectious as the internet bubble burst  that people the following year were still talking about pink slip parties as opportunities for a better future, instead of seeing them for what they were, i.e.: the reality paycheck that bounced, leaving “dotcom” employees to create even more websites while they looked for jobs. One of the most brilliant of this era was FuckedCompany.com, which itself finally tanked in 2007

So What Happened?

So how the hell did The Great Internet Bubble happen so fast? It’s actually quite simple. It’s a formula something like [DOUCHEBAG VENTURE CAPITALIST] + [STUPID IDEA AND NO BUSINESS PLAN] + [COMPUTERS ARE MAGIC]. Underlying a lot of the startups was the simple failure to recognize that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. The first two items here are prime examples.

iSmell: The Scratch ‘n’ Sniff Internet

Starting with the brand name itself, which was suggestive both of personal body odor and some kind of Apple parody product. Perhaps you’d envision something like this:

 

iSmell

Nope. The “iSmell Personal Scent Synthesizer” was a peripheral device developed by DigiScents. The prototype connected to a personal computer via USB or serial port and was designed to emit a smell when a user visited a web site or opened an email. DigiScents had indexed thousands of common odors, which could be coded and “embedded” into web pages or email. According to this Wired.com piece, the iSmell was going to change the web as we knew it.

iSmell Personal Scent Synthesizer

Free Stuff: The Cue Cat

USB Cuecat Bar Code Reader

Another pervasive and stupid business idea in the year 2000 was the notion that free stuff will make money. This was probably driven by the mostly unproven “get big fast” theory of dominating a niche as fast as possible at any cost, so you wouldn’t have to battle competitors as you grew the company. One version of this was giving away shitty computers in the hope that you could collect enough data on the users to market the shit out of them. There were tons of other odd giveaways in this era, like the CueCat, which came free with a subscription to Wired magazine. It was really just a crappy barcode reader, but the idea was that for some reason you would actually keep this thing handy and scan ads every time you saw the CueCat code. This of course assumed that you read all your magazines while sitting at the computer, so the rest is history. For a while, there was a fun website with tips for hacking the thing. You can still sometimes find them on Amazon.

The 15 Billion Dollar Love Letter

ILOVEYOU virus

The year 2000 was also notable for being the first year that we had to really start worrying about computer viruses. The ILOVEYOU virus  (a.k.a. LoveLetter) was actually not a virus, it was a worm that successfully attacked tens of millions of Windows computers when it was sent as an attachment to an email message with the text “ILOVEYOU” in the subject line. Upon opening the attachment, the worm sent a copy of itself to everyone in the Windows Address Book and with the user’s sender address. It also made a number of malicious changes to the user’s system. The estimated cost of undoing the havoc it wrought was about $15 billion. That same year, one of the first effective and well-publicized DDOS attacks was executed by MafiaBoy, effectively shutting down a variety of major web destinations like Yahoo, Amazon, Dell, E*TRADE, and CNN.

Napster Bad

Last week, we talked about the short-lived awesomeness of Napster. This week, we’re here to tell you about its demise at the hands of Metal Band Douchebags Metallica. Long the iconic expression of rebellion for young people who like ten minute guitar solos, Metallica proved their decidedly establishment stance by suing their fans for using Napster, which effectively led to its death the following year. The video below pretty well sums up the sentiments of a lot of music fans at the time. It would be seven years before Radiohead’s “free” release of In Rainbows, which made more money from digital sales than all previous Radiohead albums combined.

Microsoft Invents the iPhone

Well, sort of. Microsoft had a knack back then for developing the right idea at the wrong time, and executing it poorly. We’re not even sure if this weird HP “iPAQ” can make a phone call:

Windows Phone 2000

Media Monopoly: Collect $182 Billion, Do Not Go To Jail

Perhaps demonstrating a profound inability to understand tech, in 2000 the judicial system found Microsoft guilty of monopoly practices while allowing the insanely monopolistic but failed  merger of Time Warner and AOL. This was also the year the government first demonstrated that it was likely to side with big business over consumers, as it eventually did with A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc.

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