Net Prophet: From Love Bug to Patents

SAN MATEO (05/23/2000) - I get asked a lot, "Is it hard to come up with topics to write about every week?" The toughest thing about covering Internet commerce isn't coming up with ideas (plenty of things are always happening in the I-commerce space). The tough part is deciding which ideas to write about (I only get so much space). In a perfect world, I'd write five columns a week, but despite what my boss might hope, I do actually need to sleep once in a while.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to get a few of these assorted topics off my chest.

We're all feeling the love: To me, the only thing stunning about the "I Love You" (or "Love Bug") virus is how extraordinarily unremarkable a virus it is.

It's one of dozens of viruses that replicate via Microsoft Outlook's e-mail address book and destroy user files when a script is triggered. For whatever reason, though, this one took off. Microsoft Corp. is now rethinking functionality at the cost of security; something long overdue, I say.

Most annoying site of the year award: It didn't pick up a Webby, but it looks like employees are about to pick up severance checks at Boo.com. Boo is a British business-to-consumer retailer -- not an enviable business to be in, lately. Boo was an ambitious idea: create a hip, cutting-edge commerce site aimed at broadband users. But, despite a $30 million cash infusion, Boo.com is likely to get sliced into technology chunks and sold off piecemeal. You could see this as the latest example of the b-to-c slaughter, but it's pretty simple in my opinion: Weird, animated cartoon characters do not substitute for human service.

Information wants to be free? Lexis-Nexis, which provides U.S. court decisions on CD and online, is battling start-up Jurisline, which has copied this information and made it available online for free. The court documents are copyright-free, but what about the labor assembling that information? It's a question that should interest content aggregators.

Patents want to be free? Internet honchos such as Jeff Bezos will shake their heads about patents -- and get them anyway. They have to, so as to keep somebody else from patenting the idea and putting them over a barrel. But if you're serious about patent reform, how about applying the GPL to your patent?

Just like Raph Levien did(www.levien.com/patents.html).

I'm not dead yet: The death of b-to-c commerce is being loudly exaggerated.

It's true that BBQ.com is about as dead as a company can get (they've fired their staff), but Cooking.com just scored $35 million in capital from Idealab.

As a category, b-to-c isn't dead, but the bar has been raised: A business model must make sense.

The Federal Trade Commission is rather busy: It looks like the FTC is getting into the privacy debate. The whole privacy debate really boils down to an essential philosophical question about how much information you believe someone should have about you. This is a tangled issue. But isn't it about time we adopt, at the very least, a mandatory disclosure requirement for Web sites a la the Freedom of Information Act?

Making the most of grocery shopping: PricewaterhouseCoopers released a study claiming less than 20 percent of Internet users want to shop for groceries online. Sure, but how often do people shop for groceries? Food is one of those industries that gets a lot of repeat business -- and repeat business is your friend. The real question of the grocery delivery business is: What else can be in that shopping bag?

Don't throw stones: A site called "The Wall of Shame," hosted on Zeropaid.com, is posting IP numbers of people who use Gnutella to access material of a, shall we say, dubious nature. Technologies such as Gnutella's and Napster's make all the Internet a glass house.

Bar codes revisited: The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, became the first newspapers to print bar codes with stories. The bar codes allowed a test group of 100 to use a paper-provided scanning pen and go directly to the online version of a story. We need more of this kind of creative thinking. I don't see this taking off soon unless we start building bar-code scanners into handheld wireless devices. Actually, that's not a bad idea at all.

Send e-mail to sean_dugan@infoworld.com. Dugan is senior research editor at InfoWorld.

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