Gimme an S. Gimme an I. Gimme a C. Gimme an SIC Code

While writing yesterday’s column I was actually multitasking.

Network Solutions had offered me the chance to update my listing in its dot-com directory. Since I was too lazy to move my directory service to some place sensible or (better yet) reasonably priced, I was trying to comply.

This took all morning. The script NSI assigned for the process translated my crude attempts at describing the business of A-Clue.Com into none of the hundreds of standard industrial classification (SIC) codes recognized by the Department of Commerce. (Is it an email newsletter? Is it an e-zine? Is it newsletter publishing? Is it a breath mint?)

When I actually looked at the list of codes provided at a job search site, I figured out the problem. The Internet (and most of the industries associated with it) isn’t represented.

If you’re an Internet service provider, an interactive agency, a web site developer, a web host, or (like me) an e-zine publisher, I dare you to find yourself on that list. It can’t be done.

As my 12-year-old daughter might say, hell-lo! We’ve been out here for six years. (I’ve been covering the industry for 15, but we’ll let that pass for now.) Don’t you think there should be a way to classify us, if for nothing else than the census? I think so.

The closest code I could come up with to describe what I do (in the end) was 8999. It stands for “Services, Not Elsewhere Classified” and includes “authors, lecturers, radio commentators, songwriters, weather forecasters, writers, and artists working on their own account.” If you’re designing web pages, however, you might want to consider 7336, for “establishments primarily providing commercial art services.”

This little “oops,” unfortunately, has real impacts in the real world.

With so many businesses misclassified, or unclassified, do policymakers really know what’s going on in the U.S. economy? (Headline: President Says We’re Becoming a Nation of Radio Commentators)

If they’re wrong about what we are, how much do you want to bet they’re wrong on what we’re doing? (Are those balance of trade numbers, on which economists are basing those doom-and-gloom forecasts, at all accurate?)

If we don’t know where we are, or who we are, how can we predict where we’re heading and adjust accordingly? (You don’t think Mr. Greenspan and the other fed governors are actually doing tarot readings at their monthly meetings, do you?)

Whether we like it or not, the government does have some legitimate functions in business, like regulating interstate commerce and negotiating international trade treaties. How can they do that right if they don’t know what ClickZ even is? (Is this a periodical (272) or just miscellaneous publishing? (274?) Personally, I think of these columns as something like daily greeting cards (277).)

The fact is that the SIC Manual was last updated in 1987. (The folks at OSHA have a neat little search utility for it on their site.) What were you doing in 1987? My guess is it had nothing to do with the online world, because at that time, just about everyone involved in e-commerce knew one another personally. I didn’t see you at the meeting.

This shouldn’t be controversial, and it shouldn’t take that long. If President Clinton is looking for a legacy (as opposed to frequent flyer miles), he might want to come down to Earth long enough to take a look at this.

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