Alumni of the era and pop culture junkies could easily spend hours perusing the documents Kirsch has assembled on the project's Web site. Just skimming the company names is a journey to the past. Of the firms listed, 18 have names beginning with the word "Free." Nine start with "Hot," and 24 begin with the prefix "Web."
A few Washington-area companies are enshrined on the site. The business plan of Mom.com Inc., an Owings Mills company, spells out its game plan for becoming the "top Internet destination for everything about being a Mom." Herndon-based SingleShop Inc., which sought to organize product sales on the Web by allowing consumers to buy products on different sites and pay for them in one transaction, projected it would have $31.17 million in revenue by 2003. The company started laying off staff by 2001 and has vanished .
Transcript: University of Maryland Researcher on Dot-Com Business Plan Archive
The intention of RevElution.Com was to "allow consumers (and businesses) to sell their purchasing loyalty" to the highest bidders in online auctions. At the end of an e-mail introducing the company, Reston-based RevElution.Com's founders included a quote that could sum up the philosophy of an era: "In a world filled with dogma, the future of business belongs to the heretics."
Kirsch said some of the plans were sent to him as people found out about the project. Others came from executives he and his assistants sought out. Some of the contributors are happy to unload their files, dumping whole disks and folders of documents on Kirsch's desk, but many are much more reticent. For a few, the pain that came from the era's implosion is still raw, so putting their own folly on display seems a bit ridiculous, he says. Many others are reluctant to expose documents that were created under attorney-client privilege.
"I get a lot of people saying, 'I've got tons of stuff, but I don't know if I can give it to you,' " Kirsch said. But the most important thing, he argues, is to make sure the documents exist in 50 or 100 years. "I don't know how to communicate that with people. I call it 'Open Source' History -- history that is to be written by the people who lived it."
To capture more of that history, Kirsch recently launched a second project that allows individuals to share their stories from the bubble. At CreativeDestruction.org anyone who worked at Internet technology companies during the 1990s can log on and write about the experience or take a survey about what the period was like.
"History tends to be from the voices of the elites," Kirsch says. "I want to know what the receptionist was thinking, not just the chief executive."
So far about 200 people have contributed their stories, and Kirsch says their themes read like a broken record. "They all say it was about the people. The people, the people, the people," he says. "They were trying to do well by doing good."
The Library of Congress recently gave Kirsch a $235,000 grant to continue the work, funding that is being matched by the university and other partners. Eventually, the business plan and personal history databases will be merged, Kirsch says, and the boxes of files that now approach the ceilings of several offices at the University of Maryland will be handed over to the Library of Congress.
David Kirsch will answer reader questions about the dot-com archive at noon today at www.washingtonpost.com/technology.
Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every other Thursday. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.