Book by Web site owner skewers dead dot-coms

By Michael Liedtke The Associated Press
Thursday March 28, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Without wise guys like Philip J. Kaplan, it might have taken a few more years before we could share a lusty laugh about the absurdities of the Internet economy. 

Fortunately, the self-styled “idiot dork” who calls himself “Pud” is around to snicker through the dot-com graveyard, crudely skewering the corpses of dumb ideas along the way. 

Kaplan’s profane musings will never be mistaken for profound literature, but he offers enough wit and wisdom to make his new book worth reading. 

The 180-page “F’d Companies: Spectacular Dot-Com Flameouts” capsulizes the bawdy commentary that Kaplan, 25, has been sharing on an irreverent Web site he launched in May 2000 as the hot air began to leak from the dot-com bubble. 

Kaplan’s site began as a spoof on those ghoulish office pools that award points for predicting celebrity deaths. It morphed into an online town square where disillusioned dot-com workers gathered to bash the entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, securities analysts and, yes, reporters that fed the illusion of success before the industry’s implosion. 

The site, which still attracts as many as 4 million visitors per month, transformed Kaplan from just another cynical computer programmer to an acerbic sage. 

Readers unfamiliar with Kaplan no doubt are wondering where they can find his Web site, but it’s a vulgar address that can’t be repeated in a family friendly news outlet. Not even Kaplan’s book publisher, Simon & Schuster, dared to use it in the title, resorting to a contraction instead. 

Kaplan’s merciless retrospective covers most of the dot-com meltdown’s biggest failures, including Pets.com, Webvan.com, Kozmo.com and eToys.com. Those four companies burned through $1.5 billion of investors’ money before collapsing. 

Much has been written about why these dot-coms failed, but Kaplan cuts through the business claptrap and exposes the naked stupidity of their concepts in a few sarcastic sentences. 

Take his analysis of Pets.com: “I’m out of dog food and my cat’s box needs new litter. I know what I’ll do: I’ll order Dog Chow and Fresh Step online from a sock puppet and then I’ll watch the dog starve and the cat (defecate) all over the house while I wait for it to be delivered!” 

Reading Kaplan’s book illustrates the futility of once-ballyhooed high-tech business incubators that Kaplan calls “dot-bomb factories.” Pasadena-based Idealab, perhaps the best-known incubator, backed nine of the failures lowlighted in Kaplan’s book — Pets.com, eToys.com, Refer.com, Z.com, MyBiz.com, eVoice.com, Zelerate.com, Modo and iExchange.com. 

Kaplan’s book also discusses some of the Web’s lesser-known flops, like Eppraisals.com, an online appraiser of antiques. Kaplan’s take: “Investors originally gave this company ... that figures out how much things are worth, more than $15 million. It’s ironic, don’t ya think?” 

Perhaps no more ironic than the success Kaplan enjoys as a caustic commentator. 

“I’m not an analyst, I’m not an investor, I’m not an executive,” Kaplan writes, peppering profanity with loose grammar throughout. “I’m that dude at your office in the dark cubicle who nobody listens to or pays attention to.” 


It’s becoming increasingly difficult not to notice Kaplan’s cackle as he makes money ridiculing all the dot-coms that never did. 


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Simon & Schuster Web site: http://www.simonsays.com