by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume V, No. VII
For the Week of February 19, 2001

This Week's Clue: Don't Be Lemmings

This Week's Clue: Don't Be Lemmings

SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)

Earthlink Gets its Groove Back


Buy High, Sell Low

Clued-in, Clueless

NOTE: Due to the overwhelming demand of your e-mails (and many unsubscribes) I've decided to take a-clue.com back to weekly publication. (Those who preferred daily deliveries will just have to cut the thing into five pieces, and your ideas for a design that will make that easier are welcome.) 

I have learned a lot from this experiment. I learned that notice of change isn't always observed. I've learned that daily production is hard, even when you're not changing the content. I've learned that parts of this letter (like Shameless Self Promotion) can easily be compressed. And I've learned I have a lot of friends, trusted associates who read what I write and get something out of it. 

Finding readers like you was always my goal here, and I'm honored by your support. But enough about me...

There's a myth going around that man is an intelligent creature. I have no idea where it got started. Most, in fact, are lemmings.

You remember lemmings from school. They breed and feed and feed and breed until they overpopulate the range, then most of them go running off a cliff to certain death. The lemmings' story is used in schools to teach all sorts of lessons, about environmentalism, about the balance of nature, about the innate brilliance of God or the innate stupidity of animals. 

But it's not the lemmings' nature that should be at issue. The lemmings are all too human.

When times were great, a year ago, I remember sitting in a bar with a bunch of other savants and dreaming of great riches, thinking about what we'd do with a real passel of money. Now the money's gone and work's drying up and the mood out there is more depressing than a long February rainstorm.

At this time of the economic cycle, a point that truly calls for "outside the box" thinking, most people are pulling the lid in after themselves. I have a friend who just quit a technical magazine, one written for "the guys in the boiler room." The magazine had drawn a fortune from a big company for this stance, but now that times are harder the new owners want to reach "decision makers." 

Publications are about their readers, not the publishers and not the ad staffs. Publications that forget this fail and deserve to fail. Too bad the coming failure of this technical journal is also taking a big hunk of my income with it, but there you go.

If you don't want to be a lemming, you can take a lesson from this. Your store isn't about you. It's about your customers. Serve them with everything you have - no matter how much that is - and if you do it with passion your market will find you. 

You can see lemming-like behavior all over the Internet Bubble and its aftermath, which I now call the dot calm. On the way up no one listened to warnings that the bubble was sure to burst. On the way down no one is listening to the rational thought that there's a real market here - a huge and growing market - one that is still worth pursuing. 

Lemmings, it seems, don't want to earn money. They want to get money. Lemmings don't understand that you become a millionaire by saving or by building. Real value is created over time, not all at once. 

So this week's Clue is simple. Sit tight, keep working, and don't let depression get you down. If you can keep your head while all about you others are losing theirs, you'll be a man my son. (Oh, you're female? Then you'll be a woman, my daughter.)

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

After some flames, some unsubscribes, and a bit of soul-searching I've decided to take a-clue.com back to weekly publication. It took me much longer than expected to load five dailies (even with the content in hand) and I need to make a living (this is my marketing, not my work). If you really liked the daily delivery, let me know and we'll see what we can do for you, but you might want to just read one item each day off this issue. (I know, betcha can't read just one.)

Join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Audettemedia. You can also read me daily at ClickZ , monthly at B2B, and Boardwatch, weekly at WorkZ  and once every two weeks at Internet Content. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

Shameless Promotion

E-COMMERCE 2001(tm) CONFERENCE & EXPOSITION March 8-10, 2001, Outrigger Waikoloa Beach Hotel, Big Island of Hawaii AN INTERNATIONAL EVENT...ENROLL NOW...

Takes on the News

Earthlink Gets its Groove Back

Buy high, sell low! Sprint has been following this Wall Street maxim "brilliantly" for years, most recently by deciding to back out of its marketing deal with Earthlink .

This is the best possible news for Earthlink, which now has about 4.5 million users. The company badly needs an assurance of independence in order to remain credible in the market. Earthlink has always spent heavily on operations and customer service, emulating its smaller brethren in the dial-up market, while larger companies spent most heavily on marketing.

Earthlink's biggest problem right now is the temptation to move away from that heritage, by spending too heavily on TV ads, by trying to become America Online. The ads themselves aren't terrible, but they're not memorable, either. I really preferred the billboards (and I hate billboards), with messages like David@earthlink.net and goliath435@aol.com. They delivered the ideals behind Earthlink really well. Make things like that the heart of the branding effort, while concentrating the DSL effort on existing customers, then beat the street with earnings and you've got a $50 stock, not a $10 one.

The move away from Sprint could presage a merger with MSN according to News.Com. But here's a Clue for the reporters. If the deal gets done Earthlink will be the buyer, not the seller. Unless that happens the deal will be a failure.


Critics have always called the Internet a dangerous place. They did so even when it wasn't that dangerous. Now it's becoming quite dangerous.

What makes it dangerous is "spyware" (Steve Levy's term) software designed to pry data out of user machines without their knowledge. So far Spyware has mainly been employed by corporations (in the form of cookies) and hackers (in the form of worms that harvest e-mail addresses). The big danger is this will be used by shady corporations (harvesting personal data) and (more important) by government (seeking Napster files or DeCSS).

I predict cops will find it impossible to resist Spyware. They will note that crooks have it and claim they're just "leveling the playing field." They will offer to get warrants - but citizens aren't notified of warrants. They will claim it's less intrusive than seizing a machine, although a seizure can be fought. Then they will claim necessity, that Spyware is the only way possible to enforce the copyright law. On that they may be right, but is it worth destroying the Net?

Oh, a coalition of privacy advocates has proposed legislation but it's totally ineffective concerning the real danger. The biggest threat to the Net is user mistrust, and Spyware - no matter who uses it - feeds that mistrust.

Buy High, Sell Low

Bill Lederer's Art.Com (originally artuframe) was one of the great success stories of the late 1990s. Bill had owned a frame shop, and simply used his Web site to sell framed prints. (He was really selling the frames, not what was inside them.) He priced and scaled his operation properly, and he used affiliate marketing to keep his selling costs low. It was a nice profitable business.

Well, Getty Images wound up buying the business for $202 million a few years ago and guess what? That's right, now they want out. They're laying-off 50 and looking to sell.

What went wrong? It was a classic business mistake. Getty was selling images, not frames, and thought Art would accelerate its business model. Wrong! Getty also thought it knew best how to run Art's business and let the top Art.Com people (including Lederer) walk, taking their knowledge with them.

When you buy a business, you buy its management, its goodwill, and the way it works. You don't just buy physical assets. Changing for change sake is always Clueless.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Forbes for its Forbes ASAP investigation of AOL. Too bad it's about 5 years late (I knew all about this in 1994) and they really propose no remedy (they never do).

Clueless is Germany , which announced a highly intrusive program against piracy that does nothing to deal with file sharing systems.

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