Internet currency: Pie in the sky, or does someone out there have enough vision and clout to make it happen?
My late father, Fred, was a dreamer, a schemer, and an entrepreneur.
He was always up for the Next Big Thing, but he had no follow-through. When the going got tough, he got into something else. In terms of business, he was definitely a Man of His Time, an archetype, seen on the screen as Ralph Kramden and, later, Fred Flintstone and Homer Simpson.
My dad's next-door neighbor, Lou, rejected 9 of every 10 ideas (including some really good ones) that came his way. When he did go with something, he went full out. He stayed the course, got professional help, and poured money into it until the job was done.
The recent boom-and-bust cycle of the Internet economy was like my dad. He would have put money in everywhere, losing some out of disinterest and the rest because he stayed in too long.
In the wake of the Fred years, a lot is still left on the table for the Lous to pick up. Internet commerce is more than a replacement for catalogs and direct mail pitches. Internet marketing is more than spam or pop-ups that get in the way of content. And Internet content is more than repurposed magazines or TV.
The Freds of this world won't make it happen. The Freds will be left with sock puppets and worthless options, as my family was left with warm memories and a nonfunctional heat pump in the basement. The Freds of the world are heavily invested in Wi-Fi.
Something permanent is up to the Lous. The Lous in this case are institutional companies that have been shopping the great Internet yard sale over the past year, picking up technologies for a song. ("Is this software usable? I'll give you a quarter for it.")
A great example can be found in Linux. A few years ago, the Linux business was filled with entrepreneurs and start-ups. The companies making the most of Linux today are IBM and Sun. IBM will probably make a hefty profit on its Linux business this year.
There are many Lou-type businesspeople within and beyond the Fortune 500. Some are the people who built or managed companies; others are the companies themselves.
One niche I expect to see them get into this year is Internet currency. Lots of entrepreneurs, from beenz.com to Flooz.comto FreeRide.com, have tried and failed in this market, leaving consumers with worthless ducats and investors with worthless stock.
It takes institutional heft to create a new currency -- a job for bankers, brokers, or nations. (If you think you're really good at this, call Argentina. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are the real experts.)
An Internet currency would buy not only goods, but also time. It would buy hours on a music site for downloading or months at a band site for listening to demos and offering suggestions. It would do the same on a game site. It would be offered by advertisers, accumulated by teenagers, and spent like water.
I know lots of Freds with the infrastructure in place to make all this happen. What's needed is a Lou who will take a look at the idea and say, "Yes."
Dana Blankenhorn has been a business reporter for more than 20 years. He has written parts of five books and currently contributes to Advertising Age, Business Marketing, NetMarketing, the Chicago Tribune, Boardwatch, CLEC Magazine, and other publications. His own newsletter, A-Clue.Com, is published weekly.
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