Commentary

A World Lit Only by Nonsense?

By Michael Kubin, Co-CEO, Leading Web Advertisers

Sometime in the future people are going to try to figure out how the Internet speculative bubble happened, in the same way we look back today to the 1600s to make reason out of the Dutch tulip frenzy.

Encarta describes it this way: "Interest in tulip growing mounted, especially in Holland, where it developed by 1634 into a craze called tulipomania. Wild speculation in tulip stock ensued, and enormous prices were paid for single bulbs. After many people had gone bankrupt, the crisis was ended by government regulation of the tulip trade. Tulip growing eventually became established as an important Dutch industry, and tulip bulbs are still a major export of the Netherlands."

Does this resonate with recent Internet industry events? Eerily so. But given we have 366 years' experience over those wacky Dutch, how could this have happened to US? Where was OUR historical perspective? Didn't we know the Internet stock market meltdown was bound to happen?

In his book "A World Lit Only By Fire," William Manchester draws a fascinating picture of the Dark Ages, a time when humanity was first beginning to tinker with the tools that would lead to the Renaissance. But the Dark Ages were a time, aptly, of almost complete endarkenment, when the church and the monarchies jealously controlled all 'information.' People were fed only 'facts' that would validate and strengthen the position of those in power; that is, the church and the monarchies. And the draconian way in which dissenters were treated insured that hardly any existed.

It's clear to those of us who've watched the Internet bubble form and burst that a similar form of endarkenment contributed to it. The press that has grown up in the 'new economy' isn't the free and unbiased press we were used to. To a great degree this new press that has fed the flames of the Internet frenzy has been a self-serving, biased thing, owned and controlled in great part by the same companies it was charged with monitoring. A real fox-in-the-henhouse situation.

This endarkenment shows up in the vast number of astonishingly badly researched articles about the Internet economy. Without pointing fingers, and mindful that this commentary is part of the very same media it's discussing, it is clear the 'new economy press' serves primarily as a disseminator of almost any piece of 'information' served up by Internet companies.

Specifically, the lack of fact-checking and critical thinking on the part of new economy editors has led to an abundance of absurd stories, such as 'how much advertisers are spending on the Web?' 'How long are those growth rates likely to continue?' 'How large is the e-commerce marketplace?' and so on.

The large number of electronically-distributed trade publications, combined with their price to the consumer (free), combined with the relative lack of experience of reporters and editors, combined with an almost total lack of accountabi

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