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U-Md. Professor Archives History Of Dot-Com Bombs

By Ellen McCarthy
The Washington Post
Thursday, October 28, 2004; Page E01

This was the pitch: String together a network of powerful telescopes and beam live images of deep space onto the Internet. Don't make users pay to see the universe, but attract advertisers who want their logos displayed alongside the glorious (real-time) heavens. Raise about $30.8 million in venture capital, create a global monopoly on outer space imagery and cash out by holding an initial public stock offering on Nasdaq.

Today the Web site of KaoticSpace.com is gone.

_____Live Discussion_____
Transcript: University of Maryland Researcher on Dot-Com Business Plan Archive
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Years from now, few are likely to remember the company's rapid, meteoric if you will, rise and fall. And David A. Kirsch thinks that's a shame.

For more than two years, Kirsch, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, has been frantically collecting business plans of the dot-com era. To let these documents lie idle and scattered is to risk losing an important piece of American business and cultural history, he argues.

"How will future historians be able to understand the texture of this time? What information will they have access to, to understand the highs and lows?" he asks. "We can't wait 100 years for documents to wend their way into historical archives. We've got to act now."

Kirsch and a rotating staff of loyal students have created a digital database -- available at www.businessplanarchive.org -- that lists more than 2,300 companies so far, mostly from 1997 to 2002. It is a painstaking process, and the records are far from comprehensive, Kirsch acknowledges, but he hopes the archives may someday prove useful in capturing the craziness of the Internet boom.

For instance, how could a scholar 50 years from now capture the brazen self-confidence of dot-com entrepreneurs? Chapters of exposition might not match two paragraphs in KaoticSpace.com's 2001 business plan that lay out the company's public relations strategy:

"We won't have to bribe or pay any media providers for promotion. It is in their users (investors) interest to know of us. By not providing their users with the most current information on us, they (media providers) would be doing their viewers a disservice, and risk losing said viewers."

Or consider the founders of FreeProductSamples.com. They identified at least 21 other companies trying to make a profit giving away beauty products and household items but were confident they could become cash-flow positive in 12 months and hit the $100 million revenue mark in five years. Executives of ThatNew.com sought to help users keep track of all the exciting Web sites popping up on the Internet by filtering them into categories like "thatnewbusiness.com" and "thatnewshow.com."

"Accordingly we believe the 'thatnew' brand is a strong one and ripe for immediate growth and commercial exploitation," the company's executives explained in an e-mail appealing for an investment.

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