by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume V, No. VI
For the Week of February 12, 2001

This Week's Clue: The Proof of Being Clued-in

This Week's Clue: The Proof of Being Clued-in

SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)

Digital Insanity

More Legal Bullying

One Plus One Equals (Maybe) One

Clued-in, Clueless

Note: If prefer weekly deliveries let me know, and we may go back to them. I'm typing as fast as I can!

The verdict on whether people are clued-in or clueless really comes at times like this, the times that try men's souls. That's what makes hard times so precious to me, and what should make them precious to you.

The folks at C|Net definitely have a Clue. Their reaction to the problems in Internet advertising is to innovate. They've made support for large-scale Flash advertising basic to their latest redesign. Even when such ads don't generate click-throughs they do grab attention, and that increased name recognition can be measured. They're also smart not to add ads to "directory" pages, those filled with headlines that people want to get past quickly on their way somewhere else .

Bob Davis is also Clued-in. The former CEO of Lycos sold while there was still value to be had in the stock. He left when he lost control of the ship but he's the "Alex Rodriguez" among this class of dot-com free agents. I can't say whether those following Davis out the door are Clued-in but they do know enough to get off the bridge when the boat hits an iceberg.

Here is someone else who is Clued-in - Larry Augustin of VA Linux . (In fairness, my IRA acquired 106 shares of VA Linux last year, and yes the stock is underwater.) Augustin has a business model (he sells rack-mounted Linux servers to communications companies) and a clear idea of where the market is heading. Having a Clue doesn't mean you'll succeed, but it's better to have one than not.

Let's add one more name to the list, Karl Auerbach . He has courageously taken on the ICANN board since before he was elected to it last year. Users have a friend in Karl.

It's much easier, of course, to identify the Clueless in the rubble. David Weatherell is Clueless, the "Jimmy Ling" of our time. (Ling built a great conglomerate in the 1960s, but by the 1970s - when the market changed - it faded.) Just as there is no more "business model" in an incubator than there is "synergy" in a conglomerate, there's also no sense lionizing someone before they've faced a crisis.

Don't forget to add Henry Blodget and Mary Meeker to the Clueless list. Both should be forgiven - stock analysts are really just touts for companies that sell stocks for a living. Those who are really Clueless are those who buy what stock touts sell, the idea that they're independent and care a fig for the investor. They work for the house.

The folks at Corel were Clueless , and so was Computer.Com . Microsoft was made Clueless by the Justice Department -- anyone who was Clued-in was forced out by those who refused to consider that the government had any case. If you don't believe me click here .

The difference between those who are Clued-in and those who are Clueless isn't easy to see when everyone is making money. I listen for arrogance, for attitudes that won't take a fall, and for any sign that someone is confusing luck with genius. Not all those who are Clued-in succeed but that's also important to understand. A Clue isn't a guarantee, and even Clueless people do get lucky. But in the long run - the long run of your career, or your investment portfolio - you'll win more than you lose by betting on the Clued-in.

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

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Shameless Promotion

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Takes on the News

Digital Insanity

Jakob Nielsen teaches that you test the usability of your site by having some people who are unfamiliar with it try to do something.

But with more and more people getting more and more experience using your site, should you still limit yourself to this? Not according to Catalyst Group Design of New York . (Offering a Web version of the paper alongside the Adobe Acrobat version would have been nice, guys.)

Site design should also reward frequent users, the company says , and the point is well taken. As people become accustomed to using your site even a redesign may leave them cold. Here are some ideas that make sense to me:

The sites most likely to have learned these lessons are those that are most heavily used in the consumer market, like Amazon and CDNow. But there's no reason why you can't learn from their experience.

More Legal Bullying

Maybe this is just my week for picking on lawyers. But the bullying of the legal profession is one of America's greatest weaknesses as a business nation.

Here's an example. Mall developer Simon Properties had no Web site, and its malls had no brand name, when entrepreneurs created the shopping comparison site mysimon . But the Internet looked like a threat, so Simon built a Web site . But it didn't' stop there. It sued MySimon to grab the name, carefully filing in Indianapolis, its headquarters, a city it practically owns. Naturally, a judge sided with the property developer .

This is the kind of decision that not only shakes faith in the law, but in the fairness of our business system. The law should protect entrepreneurs and start-ups against bullying. Business depends on respect for law. Without it business can't take place. Every business should consider that before sending their henchmen to the courthouse.

One Plus One Equals (Maybe) One

There are many ways in which businesses can go under. Many actions that don't appear to be bankruptcies actually are.

Take mergers, for instance. Mergers are often a way to get rid of companies. When two competitors merge the result isn't one strong, dominant player. The result is often just one competitor.

That's the way to understand deals like last week's acquisition of Women.Com by iVillage . Hearst basically paid $20 million in cash to have someone take this mess off its hands.

The result will be the same as in bankruptcy too. That is there will be massive consolidation of positions and lay-offs in all departments. A year ago I called Oxygen.Com Clued-in for combining TV and Internet assets, and for waiting for the first before launching the second. I renew that now, and predict the final winner in all this will be Oprah.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Bob Davis , formerly of Lycos. That's something I didn't understand for years, and it was Clueless of me not to.

Clueless is CMGI . David Weatherell is an idiot, and his latest scheme to shakedown the Net with his patent attorneys is proof positive he never did have a Clue .

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