The Underhyped Internet

Joe Nocera and Kara Swisher

The Underhyped Internet

Joe Nocera and Kara Swisher

The Underhyped Internet
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Aug. 23 1999 3:47 PM

Joe Nocera and Kara Swisher

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Dear Joe,

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First, I wanted to assure you that I never discriminate against straight white men. In fact, some of my best friends are of your ilk.

Thanks for the good wishes about the wedding. I had no idea that it had become an important Silicon Valley event--it had fewer Internet moguls who could give out lucrative friends-and-family stock than it had family. For the record, I didn't take any stock as a wedding gift. Frankly, I think all the hubbub about the event was due to the fact that few have seen an actual same-sex marriage up close and would not want to miss the opportunity. After the 123rd one, I am sure that people will become as thrilled about going to one as they are about heterosexual nuptials. ("Honey, not another lesbian wedding? We're going to go broke buying all these power tools.")

I hope so, although I was not heartened by an article I read this morning in the Los Angeles Times about the fact that despite numerous hate crimes laws on the books, few are being implemented by police, who appear to decline to report obvious hate crimes as such. The first example, of a West African man being beaten up by a skinhead who didn't like the color of his skin, was only eclipsed in horror by the story of a man who had his head split in half and was "roasted" by a man who claimed the victim had made a pass at him. I am not sure when a simple "No, thanks" fell out of a favor for more brutal solutions. Both crimes, shockingly, were not reported as hate crimes.

It is certainly disheartening, but I have hope--which brings me to the Internet, which I am thrilled to talk about all day and night. In fact, I do, since my partner is the CEO of an Internet company called PlanetOut, which is one of the largest gay and lesbian sites on the Web. I report all day about the Internet, and then go home and talk about it even more. Perhaps you could call me a loser, but I have never been so captivated by a medium in my life. I think I have become so obsessive about the advent of the Internet because I have long believed that it will turn out to be the most powerful communications medium of all time. To me, it has the potential to sweep away ignorance about such topics as gay and racial hatred and empower people to take more control of their lives. The idea of a fully interactive medium that only becomes more powerful by its exponential growth, that gives people the tools to instantly publish, that allows for a freer and even chaotic flow of information, is a gigantic one.

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I know I sound like those demented digerati who have spent too much time in the insular world of Silicon Valley, but I firmly believe that the Internet is underhyped. I almost cringe when I write this because some of what is going on here has been underwhelming and derivative of the old world. For all the attention given to electronic commerce of late, and the incredibly high valuation being given to companies that lose scads of money, some of the business on the Web is little more than a glorified version of selling crap on the Internet. Not very exciting to be sure, and a little unnerving to me since fewer companies I see these days are as concerned with building a real business as they are in popping out an IPO, taking the money, and hoping to the heavens to figure out what to do next. This makes me very nervous and it should make a lot of others nervous, too.

In fact, what disturbs me most is the lack of information individual investors are using to make their decisions, despite the flood of good data available. It's more than a little ironic that the Internet is a place of endless information and people who are buying up stock in Web companies have little knowledge of the businesses they are betting on. It seems to have become a big guessing game in which a few will end up with the right answers. In fact, since this medium is built from the ground up, no one is entirely sure what the right answers may be in the years to come. Thus, the theme of my coverage of this interesting time in business history, which was also the theme of my book on America Online: Nobody knows. More on AOL in my next missive.

Re: the little league story, I am never surprised by the lengths we go in the name of sports, which I do not follow closely, making me a bad lesbian, I guess.

Cheers,
Kara

P.S. I am on the California Zephyr with my lovely nephews, who are 4 and 6 years old, traveling east. We are taking only two days off, losers that we are, for our honeymoon, since my partner is in the throes of the second round of financing for her company. It's one Internet business I don't cover, for obvious reasons, but we're planning a trip later in the fall--pre-Y2K--to Israel.

Joe Nocera is an editor-at-large for Fortune magazine who lives in Northampton, Mass. Kara Swisher covers Silicon Valley for the Wall Street Journal and is the author of aol.com: How Steve Case Beat Bill Gates, Nailed the Netheads, and Made Millions in the War for the Web (clickhereto buy the book).