The purchase of my friend waxy by Yahoo for his website he worked on with others called upcoming.org makes me again contemplate the whole money thing. Always an interesting thing to do, although potentially depressing.
As you might guess or have heard, textfiles.com loses money. Absolutely sprays it out the door. Initially because it was just a website, it’s now pretty much by design.
If you speak in terms of “uniques” and “impressions”, I do all right: an average of about 350,000 people visit textfiles.com and its various sub-sites every month. That’s a lot of people, and more than a lot of weblogs and online concerns can hope to get. In fact, from a pure “web” experience, I’m an absolute success: many of those people are simply using my site to grab a textfile, directly linked, from deep within the site. Here’s the most popular file last month, for some reason.
I’ve railed quite a bit about online advertising before. There’s no point in doing it again, other than to say that my initial scowling regard for “text ads” has now shifted back to its default strong dislike. I see people considering text ads to be some sort of magic bag of tricks that one merely has to sprinkle on one’s site and then the site pays for itself. But the site I contracted to hold photos and trailers for the BBS documentary charges me $8 a month. EIGHT DOLLARS A MONTH. Why could you possibly need advertising on a site that costs you less than a large pizza? You have no excuse. Sit down.
Anyway, this really isn’t about advertising, but buy-outs. And there have been an awful lot of them recently.
As we zoom away from what is called the Internet Bubble, I think it’s time to remember what caused that bubble. Money. Lots and lots and lots of money. Speculative money, money where you dumped so much cash into a company with an idea, it just had to do something with it. And heck if they didn’t! Do you know how many shark tanks got sold?
But beyond that, since there weren’t a lot of payments being made to a lot of companies in the form of sold products or actual income, the money was real… but fake. If you give a company $5 million dollars in funding, that’s a lot of money to do a lot of great stuff for the company, like pay for space, pay for employees, advertise, and so on. I can think of a lot of good I’d do with $5 million dollars, and do well by it.
But here we encounter a little problem; nobody is going to give me five million dollars. I don’t know that I would accept five million dollars if it was offered to me.
See, the kind of companies that would be offered millions of dollars in funding would need two components: people who are willing to give a company millions of dollars, and people capable of finding people willing to give them millions of dollars. Both of these personalities don’t tend to be compatible with concepts like “incremental improvement” and “mental stability”. Instead, they would dump lots of money into a company, say, Kozmo.com (which did home delivery of products based on internet orders), and then go “NOW FLY! FLY RIGHT NOW! JUMP!” and Kozmo, flush with this cash, would immediately try to expand out into the world at 100 miles an hour, stretching itself so thin and entering so many local (geographic) markets at once, that they kind of snap. And that, in a little nutshell, is what happened to Kozmo. And a lot of other companies too. Kozmo’s idea was good; it had brilliant aspects (they had a great way to figure out delivery routes) and not-so-brilliant aspects (no minimum order, so people could make the company send a guy to deliver you a toothbrush). With all this money coming in, the company has to make a splash! splash! splash! They now have shareholders with demands for profitability RIGHT NOW, and trade industries that consider a week to be a lag in terms of response, and they want stuff RIGHT NOW, and this little coke-fuelled dream of insanely good but fundamentally insane ideas has to do everything RIGHT NOW, so they dump a lot of dollars in strange directions. Until, one day, they realize they’ve spent ALL their money, all these millions, on half-baked eskimo pies that even people within the company thought were insane to pursue. So everything implodes, the whole mess goes bankrupt, and everyone goes onto the next little insanity.
This madness of the late 1990s is not what happens in today’s world.
In today’s world, and I do mean the present day, funding is happening less (publically) than purchase. Instead of giving a set of people who claim to have invented a better electronic goldfish a ton of money, Electric Golfish Industries, Inc., which may be 4 people and a web server are being bought, wholly, by other companies.
And once again, we’re seeing stupid numbers go by, and all the little weasel people I saw 10 years ago are coming back. You can’t spend 25 million dollars on a collection of 85 weblogs and not realize you’re throwing an awful lot of chum in the water and you’re going to attract a lot of sharks.
These sharks will be people who don’t care about technology, don’t care if the product works, don’t care, really, except for making the whole thing stand up long enough to be sold and then who cares if it collapses. There were a lot of them about 7 years ago and they’ll come back if they think there’s a chance of it happening again.
Where does this leave textfiles.com? Glad you asked.
Textfiles.com is proud to announce that in a new… ha, just kidding.
The fact is, I just don’t see the site ever being “bought” by anyone. I’m not really in a position to sell the content, don’t want to sell the content, and really, who would pay for this content?
I suppose there might be some interest in the brand name, but again, I wouldn’t want to sell it and I don’t think anyone would want to buy it.
This leaves me.
As a known digital historian of (minor) fame, I suppose a company looking to puff up its efforts in archiving history or making some sort of library available (clogged with ads and click-throughs) would decide, in the middle of some ketamine-inspired high, to offer me money to jump on board and be a “digitization evangelist” or “librarian-at-large” or the like. I guess they could buy me for some stupid amount of money and put me on a little seat and send me via plane to a bunch of conferences to “evangelize” a bunch of folks in a limo or a conference room about why my new benefactors will change the face of whoziz whatta blurbblurb etc. This seems dumb, but as I mentioned, there’s a lot of dumb out there. Money-caked, short-term-oriented, spastic dumb.
This is why I made so much of textfiles.com downloadable, get mirroring all over the globe, have everything up with no gunk. Because that way it’s not dependent on me.
If I disappear tomorrow, if the textfiles.com name dies or otherwise becomes incapacitated, then the work I did, the archives and the collections and the saved history, does not disappear. People grab it from the mirrors, people who archived my copies register TEXTFILESSOLDOUT.COM and put it all up again. The work is not lost, utterly dependent on one person.
This was intended to be insurance against a disaster. But if a company buys your work for the pure sake of turning you into a marketable brand, or to stop another company from buying you, or otherwise intends to gut you and put your stuffed form in a little box in the front lobby saying “look what we have”…
…isn’t that kind of a disaster?
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