FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Google IPO: The Dotcom Economy Lives!

One of the biggest business stories this past week has been the pending initial public offering (IPO) of Google. As a short-term investment move, Google would seem to be a no-brainer; it's effectively the Web's search engine of record... and to boot, it's profitable. You know you've made an indelible impact when your company or product's name becomes a generic verb ("I did some googling and found the answer to your question.").

(Until a couple of years ago, if someone were to tell you they were "googling," you'd likely consider calling 911. For either an ambulance or the cops.)

The latest news is that the IPO is off to a bumpy start. But an even larger question seems to loom. Unless the IPO turns out to be a huge bust, Google stands to make a ton of money... and its founders very rich. To that end, does this signal the rebirth of the "dotcom economy" of the late '90's?

Instead of a simple yes or no, I would argue that the "dotcom economy" never went away. The fact that you're reading this blog is a testament to that. Sure, the giddy excitement over the Web we had in the mid-'90's is long gone, but that's not because it failed. Quite the opposite -- it's precisely because it succeeded so well that we no longer think of the Web as anything special. The Internet has become an ordinary technical fact of life, like the telephone or electricity. Just because it's not exciting or sexy doesn't mean it's not important (remember that the next time you lose power or phone service...).

Sure, there were a lot of flameouts and bad ideas in the late '90's, and we'll be talking about Boo.com and that sock puppet for years to come. But that's normal with any disruptive technology! When the automobile first hit the mass market in the early 1900's, hundreds of car manufacturers got in on the boom. A few years later, only a few were left. Yet the auto industry was just getting started, and much of that boom-bust cycle happened before Henry Ford revolutionized the industry with the Model T.

No, we're not looking at a second bubble with the Google IPO. Both the techies and the investors are too smart to let that happen. But the "dotcom economy" keeps marching on... twisting and turning a bit along the way. The dumb ideas, get-rich-quick schemes and unrealistic expectations (most, at least) have been weeded out. Google just reminds us that as a business, the Web is in it for the long haul, and that the best is yet to come.