This Week’s Agenda: Shakedown Street

Nothing shaking on Shakedown Street
Used to be the heart of town
Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart
Just got to poke around

The Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street” was one of the first records (yes, records) I ever bought. (That dates me…) The title track was a vision of urban decay and the kindness that lay underneath.

That’s a good analog for today’s Web. It seems that everyone’s business survival is at stake. Technical progress no longer seems to pay. It appears that the market is shrinking, not growing. Thus, the media writes, shakedowns are in vogue.

What else can you call the dispute over Windows XP but a shakedown? Microsoft shakes down PC makers to put Media Player and MSN on the XP desktop, while PC makers shake down the rest of the industry for desktop “real estate.”

What else can you call it when domain name “Sooners” grab generic .info and .biz names? Trademark owners are supposed to be the only folks who can pre-register, but the registrars aren’t checking, so speculators have grabbed all the “good” names.

What is it but a shakedown when recording companies “copy proof” CDs without telling consumers, violating fair use guidelines posted on the industry’s own Web site?

Then, of course, there’s the eBay digital camera scam.

The real question for today should be why these stories are getting huge play while innovation and good news are being ignored:

  • The venture capital slowdown is leveling off, and investors are actually putting more money into deals than before the Internet bubble.
  • Epson has launched a site specializing in the free sharing of digital photos. The site is in England, but Seiko Epson owns epsonphoto.com and a message there says a site is “under construction.”
  • Despite a “the sky is falling” media panic, the number of dial-up users in the U.S. is still rising
  • Total Internet advertising spending in 2001 will actually be higher than last year, rising to $5.7 billion, according to Jupiter Media Metrix.

The fact is that, while conflict and trouble make for easy headlines, there is an industry being born beneath the rubble. There are Web businesses such as Monster.com and eBay that are making healthy profits. Leading indicators (such as profits at chip-equipment company Applied Materials) are starting to please investors.

The one constant in the Internet economy is change, continuous and accelerating change. What’s happening now is that the cream is rising to the top. Companies with strong balance sheets and solid business models are proving themselves. The way is being cleared for a recovery, one grounded in sanity, with settled ways of establishing the value of sales and earnings.

That’s good news to hear in hard times. It’s not a TV story — it doesn’t have dramatic tension. But it just so happens to be the truth. So don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart. You just got to poke around.

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