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Issue № 95

Survivor! (How Your Peers are Coping With the Dotcom Crisis)

by Published in Business, Industry

To Whom it May Concern: Due to the current economy, yet another dot-com enterprise is being dissolved, hence I am applying to your company for employment.

It’s ugly out there, but how bad is it, really? We asked some of our peers how they were coping with the crisis in the web industry. Below,  they tell their stories in their own words. At the end, you can share your experiences.

Heather Champ, Designer, Jezebel.com

Article Continues Below

For the longest time the term “cocoon” has bubbled up images of Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley and Hume Cronyn cavorting in the crystal clear waters of a “magic” swimming pool. Ron Howard has a lot to answer, for if you ask me. But as of November, it has taken on a whole new meaning as the company that I work for went into “cocoon” mode.

My job was supposed to end at the end of January though I’ve been given a stay of execution until at least the end of February. As it is, I’m pretty much the last one off the island. And how have I been dealing with it? I would have to say that the seven traditional stages of grief pretty much cover it: Acceptance (it’s happening to everyone else so it makes sense that it’s happening to me), anger (#$%&! why me?), denial (the market will pick up again soon and all this will go away), depression (I really liked the people that I worked with), fear (how will I find another job if everyone else is looking as well?), and shock (this can’t be happening to me). I’m endeavoring not to get stuck in any one stage for too long.

Ryan Holsten, Senior Multimedia Designer, Thunk DesignLiftingfaces

In order to brave the sudden shifts in our medium’s needs, I am returning to tradition, and going smaller. Finding the right firm to work with is key. As much as it may be tempting to go to a dotcom startup that shows more promise than the others, there’s longevity that 90% of them are missing, and that is tradition. You will take a pay cut at a smaller shop, but you also have a heavier influence on their success/failure (meaning do a good job, and you will be amply rewarded).

I am at Thunk Design now for a few reasons: They create cool and engaging work, they have a great team of people which makes it an interactive studio, and finally they are a traditional shop. Getting rich slowly, and maintaining a steady incline, is what this place is about. They are a team of 11 (myself included), and the politics, hierarchy, and management are all under control. So throw away the six figure salary hopes, and find a place that makes you equal parts compensated, happy, and influential.

Suzanne Carter-Jackson, Owner/Proprietor, Zero Cattle, Production Specialist, populuxe.digital

I don’t know how I am doing it, but I am surviving; possibly even capitalizing on it. But I am feeling the pressure, especially in my jaw from grinding my teeth at night. I see people far more talented and gifted than myself losing their jobs, some for spurious reasons.  I feel the push to stay on top of my skills, and resting on my laurels isn’t possible for a day, much less months.  Always onward.

But you know what, if the whole thing collapsed tomorrow, I would still survive.  The skills I have gained doing this work (predominantly publishing related) over the last 5.5 years are easily extended to more traditional “real world”  jobs. Nothing is guaranteed, no gold rush lasts forever. At the heart of it, I have reinvented myself once –  I can do it again.

Dan Shafer, CEO, The WeTalk Network, Inc.

As a company, the WeTalk Network is, to use the euphemism du jour, between rounds of funding. We’re coping only because we didn’t grow large enough during the run-up period to leave us in a place where bankruptcy was our only option. While we’ve had to lay off most of the team and others are working without salary or with minimum wage income while we sort things out, the company is definitely still in business. I have a huge dose of caution in my cup of optimism, but it beats the depression of the fourth quarter of 2000.

Personally, I’ve gone through a real wilderness experience and have questioned my sanity many times in the last four months. But I’m beyond that now and am finding that returning to writing roots while keeping several company dynamite sticks juggling in the air is actually satisfying, even invigorating. I suspect my delusions are due principally to my age; I’m one of those “gray hairs” of the industry. So I take things more sanguinely than most and perhaps more than I should, but there you have it.

Kelly Goto, Creative Director, Idea Integration, San Francisco

Crisis? I think it is a “settling.” For those who have been in the business for over a decade –  this is reality. You had to work hard to get jobs, keep them, charge reasonable rates, and provide outstanding work. People actually do care where and how their dollars are being spent. Now it’s back to the real world. Our office is intact –  morale is high –  we have an incredible team, based on respect and support. We will get through this time.

Peter Balogh, Freelance Flash Designer

The last company I worked for –  a large agency providing web design and advertising to blue-chip-level clients –  had a record year in 2000 and grew rapidly until the fall, when they instituted a hiring chill (not quite a freeze).  Their revenues are still huge.  Perhaps their background in direct marketing gave them both client appeal and business savvy.  But then, all the statistics I see indicate that online advertising revenue grew enormously throughout 2000, and I’m wondering why I keep hearing that online advertising is dead.

Now I’m freelancing on a full-time basis for a multimedia animation/entertainment company that’s growing rapidly and has substantial development budgets for its projects.  Granted, the clients are old-media companies who want to create new-media products, but I’m not seeing much fallout from the dotcom “collapse” from where I sit. Maybe working in entertainment on the web isn’t so different from working in entertainment offline: you do your thing and appreciate the people who manage the mystical trick of generating money from it.

Davezilla, Designer, Davezilla

I’m surviving fairly well, actually. The Midwest was slow to embrace the web, which turned out to be a good thing. Businesses out here are still brick and mortar. That seems to have been our saving grace.

George Olsen, Former Information Architect, Scient

I was caught in the tidal wave of layoffs in December, but in some ways it’s actually been a blessing in disguise. I’ve been working 60–80 hour weeks for more than a decade and I came to realize just how burnt out I’d gotten. (The plus side is that with a decade’s worth of savings –  and severence –  I can afford to sit out for a while.)

Since the job market looks slow in the first quarter, I’m thinking about going to Europe for a month or so. Interestingly, this may work out well, because some of the companies I’ve talked with are trying to hold off filling openings as long as they can to improve their first quarter numbers.The other blessing in disguise is that I’ve finally got a chance to catch up on work-related reading and ponder how to improve my approach to information architecture and interaction design. One of the really nice things is to be able read texts back-to-back, which helps in comparing and contrasting approaches.

It’s also nice to be able to step back and look at my experiences in the trenches and see how well things really worked. It’s tough to get that distance when you’re in the throes.

Claire Robertson,, loobylu.com

It has been a good thing for me to be forced to stop and think about what it is that should be most important to me creatively and professionally. I quickly discovered that this does not involve telling myself that I work in a hip, to-die-for industry full of funky kids and Palm Pilots™ when really what it is I’m doing is working the longest hours ever, in a filthy warehouse, in a seedy part of town for stock options that may never happen. I realised I could be throwing all this energy and blind enthusiasm into my own dream career which just might take off.

So, I found a couple of little niches in my freelance design work which aren’t terribly exciting and will not make me wealthy, but will keep paying the bills for the time being. Meanwhile I have the time and the fresh inclination to follow up on some of the ideas that had been pushed aside to make room for a “career,”  the truly creative things, the me things. And I don’t have that oh gawd, the web sucks feeling that had begun to manifest after listening to management consultants tell me about their take on how the web works all day long. The web even feels exciting again.

Dave Winer, , Userland Software

At UserLand Software, we launched our free Manila-hosting services before the collapse of the dotcom stocks. At the time, our assumption was that if we were successful at building a growing user base, we would be able to follow companies like Geocities and About.Com, and fund the expansion of our service through the public stock market.

Since then the economic tide has turned, and now we’re sure that we’ll keep losing money until we have to shut down the service.

However, not wanting to strand our users and lose their goodwill, we are getting creative. We want to keep them writing and creating for the web with our software, but we want to be able to develop new software and have a profitable business that makes our shareholders happy. We’re exploring ways to distribute the load, so that our users’ machines can do most of the work, leaving our servers free for new applications that we can base money-making businesses on.

Annalisa Oswald, Creative Director, www.anaphase.com (personal site)

I work for an enterprise software company, my first actually, so we’re not seeing as much destruction and downsizing as the dotcoms and the eBuilders, those two having a pretty tight relationship to one another. Having worked in this industry for over five years, it’s amazing (the boom and bust of such large companies) and I’m so very glad that I made the decision to head up an internal design group for a product-based company, rather than become a creative director at a dotcom, service-based company, even if it seemed that the latter would have provided more interesting design work.

I mean, it’s not as sexy, sure. But at least I still have a job, one in which I feel very fairly compensated, and those options that had potential to be worth something in 1998? I think that they still might have a fighting chance by the end of the year.

Caroline van Oosten de Boer, Prolific

Crisis? Wot crisis? Plenty of work here in the Netherlands, no sign of a slump. Our company is small, has longstanding clients. We will be merging with another smallish company that also has solid clients. Neither company ever had to rely on ’VC’ money.

There are 180,000 jobs unfilled in the Netherlands. I’m not worried. I’m lucky. At last.

Thomas Brodahl , surf.lu, surfstation

The Luxembourg economy is based on banking. The e-revolution has not yet started here, so my job is as secure as ever. We have had no set-backs, we have had no let-offs. Quite the contrary, we need people more than ever; there are just no good designers here. Maybe this slicing of the web design industry in other countries will get some good people migrating to Europe, and Luxembourg. I can only hope.

Joe Gillespie, Designer, W e b   P a g e   D e s i g n   f o r   D e s i g n e r s

Crisis, what crisis? Web design is alive and well and living in England where there are tens of thousands of vacancies for IT and web-related jobs that can’t be filled; they are even putting the unemployed on web design courses to get them off the streets. I have to turn away 75% of the jobs I’m asked to do because I need to sleep sometime.

There are 320 million surfers out there, all wanting something to look at, some information. If you keep giving them meaningless Flash animations and e-commerce “solutions”  that don’t work, they will go somewhere else, no big surprise there. But show that you can communicate and the world and his wife will beat at your door!

Cheryl Stockton, Designer, Studio Firefly

We are very busy at the studio and we have kept small, hiring a third person part-time for the moment and hiring freelancers only when absolutely necessary.  So far, our overhead has been fairly low, sharing our space with another company. We will be taking over the space ourselves in the near future. If things get hard, we figure we can rent out some of the space.

When you have your own business, there is never a guarantee of where the next job will come from, but you take your chances, do the best work you can, and keep faith. I also teach two classes at Pratt. There is always a lot to do.  Finding balance in life is the most challenging thing.

Joe Utsler, Freelance Web Geek, utsler.com

I’m flying under the radar.  People still need websites, and for those of us doing contract work for small to mid-level companies, the work is still there in quantity.  It’s one of the small benefits of not living up to my potential.  The negative is that I’m not finding one of those gravy train jobs I was hearing so much about, and when I do take a new job, I’m much more likely to go with an established company.  That probably won’t be as much fun as a risky new startup, but it will be more fun than unemployment.

Leigh Baker-Foley, Designer, No One’s Daughter

It was a relatively short stint as a dotcommie: nine months, two companies and a few new and lasting friendships well made. The one thing that still lingers, two months after the layoff, is the guilt.

Just for fun, the beasts for whom I worked decided the layoffs should happen the Friday before Thanksgiving: the beginning of a 6-week period of hiring freezes in all industries due to the holiday frenzy. (High point: While one young designer was sobbing at her desk –  head down, attempting to calm herself enough to ring her mother, who is going through yet another breast cancer surgery, to let her know that she wouldn’t be able to afford to visit her this time   –   the tiny, mudflap-haircut-wearing male member of the vampiric marketing team entered her department to loudly announce that the marketing department was going shoe shopping.)

Because of my design experience and ability to hand code, I’ve been fine and from day one have had enough freelance work (much of it fixing up the mess that the dying dotcoms have created with WYSIWYG editors and their slavish thumbing of Jakob Nielsen’s published scribbles –  thanks, Jakob!) to incorporate, pay all my bills, and share work with a couple of helpful fellow designers.

Not so for my new friends. Recruiters and headhunters are screwing them out of decent salaries by throwing them difficult and grueling short-term contracts with no benefits for rigid corporate clients, paying a third of what these talented folks should be paid because the predators know they’re becoming desperate. My friends tell me that I should feel no responsibility for their plight, but if I don’t, then who will?

Jason Fried, Matt Linderman, 37signals

So far, we’ve survived the dotcom troubles just fine (knock on wood). I think it’s mostly because we focus exclusively on visual interface design instead of trying to be a full-service web design shop. This makes us very attractive to clients who already have a back-end solution (or an in-house programming team) but are looking for help with the visual interface look/feel and the overall customer experience. Our specialization allows clients to engage us to improve their site without having to sign up for a massive, and expensive, project.

We have also kept our team tight and small. We don’t have the inefficiencies that come with layers of management, unnecessary meetings, etc. Plus, being small allows us to be more selective and only choose projects we think will be successful and interesting. We don’t have to take everything that comes our way which is a nice position to be in.

Finally, we’re smart with our money (yes, some might even say frugal). We want to make every single dollar work to make us more efficient, more productive, and more effective. We don’t waste money on fancy furniture, signage, receptionists, or other things that are “nice” but not necessary. This means we can work on projects that we actually want to work on –  which makes it all worth it.

L. Michelle Johnson, Web Designer, Makes Grown Men Cry

I’m updating my portfolio/resume, keeping in touch with local web-related groups (Silicon Valley Webgrrls, Silicon Valley Web Guild), keeping in touch with former colleagues who have been laid off or who have moved on to other companies, and saving money like crazy (no big purchases).

Also, instead of branching out and broadening my base (learn JavaScript, learn more Flash, learn DHTML –  time is a luxury right now), I’ve been narrowing my focus to strengthen my design skills and making sure my HTML is up-to-date so that I can jump fast.  Of course, as I write this, layoffs are pending at my company.

{NOTE: As this issue went to press, L. Michelle Johnson was laid off by AOL/Netscape. – Ed.}

Ben Summers, Designer/Developer, Fluffy Clouds Ltd

Moving to specialist software development, with nothing to do with web design. Who’d willingly fight web browser stupidity all day long?

Manning L. Krull, Web Designer, Jerkbox Studios

I’m not feeling any sort of crisis in the web design industry, from where I sit. My grown-up job with my employer (Medical Broadcasting Company, in Philly) feels very stable; plenty of good web projects coming in, lots of professional freedom, etc., and my freelance career is as good as it’s ever been. There doesn’t appear to be any shortage of work, and dealing with clients is actually getting easier as they gain a little more respect for the web and a little less confidence in their supreme knowledge of what they’re paying me to do.

I tackle projects with a philosophy of making the very best out of the lowest common denominators, so the chaos of standards (or, more specifically, the distinct lack thereof) isn’t much of an issue for me. Things are sweet. I can’t complain. Which makes me feel a little… guilty, I guess.

And ignorant, maybe. Where’s the crisis? Am I super unhip to not see it? Don’t answer that. YAY PIXELS!!! [By the way, it may amuse you to learn that I actually sent in a tape to audition for Survivor last summer.]

Lance Arthur, Director of User Experience, Quris

Short answer: remarkably unscathed. I’m not going to pretend prescience, but didn’t we all see it coming? Weren’t we all looking at each other over the lips of our over-priced Yuppie coffee drinks with narrowed eyes and thinking, “How the hell is that company ever going to make a profit?” followed quickly by, “And why the hell are people buying stock in them when they aren’t even projecting a profit for years to come?”

All these companies going public to cash in on an unbelievably, well, naive market made up of, I presume, daytraders in pajamas feverishly attempting to balance their portfolio made out of cotton candy and wiffle balls before everything tanks.

Anyway, back in January I moved to the heart of darkness, San Francisco, hoping to hitch my butt to some fast-moving locomotive and get some of the millions that were, at that time, still being tossed around. My dream was to start my own company, doing web design and consulting and hopefully conning… um, I mean, convincing some friends to join me in the venture. There were so many huge studios and consulting firms because they’d bought all the small ones. I figured there was a place for small studios to service small firms and that I could do many smaller projects instead of being sucked into months-long dead-ends that still the soul and quiet the creative spirit.

Then reality slapped me in the face, I realized that I should be the last person to start a company because I hate business, and I started shopping for permanent digs to put down stakes.

After freelancing at a few start-ups and seeing the insanity for what it was (i.e. wishful thinking) I joined a company that had a business plan that made sense to my uneducated business brain, a team of very smart people who knew a lot more than I did and they weren’t looking backwards trying to prop up what was already a crumbling foundation.

I work for Quris, an electronic messaging firm. We work with big companies (that pay their bills with real money) to help them design, implement and deliver email, wireless and mobile device messaging for customer retention and information. No, it’s not spam. It’s double opt-in informational or account-related messaging. Everyone knows that email is great, but it’s also sometimes a pain. We’re working to take the pain out of it. So in a sense I survived by getting out of the web.

James Widegren, Senior Art Director, Vir2L Studios Ltd. (a division of ZeniMax Media Inc.)

ZeniMax Media forges strategic partnerships with leading communications media and e-commerce companies. Joint ventures. ZeniMax invests in people and equipment and is careful with expenses. It may sound like a boring company, but it’s safe and I have greatly invested brothers and sisters around me knowing our parents are taking care of the economy.

webchick, dreamer, jammer, media.org

I’m surviving –  I’d prefer to say thriving –  but not due to the downturn of dotcoms. I actually experienced an epiphany of sorts before all the doom and gloom.

I had changed my life dramatically to be part of the “revolution.” Yet once all was said and done, after I followed that yellow brick road to Oz, I was left with an incredibly empty feeling of, “is that all there is?”

I didn’t need to move to the West Coast to be a part of some hipster scene or a corporate rat race on steroids. Being happy, and the quality and meaningfulness of work,  have always been what matters most to me. So, that has been exactly what I have been doing for the past year while the industry turned itself on its ear. Focusing on what is important: someone I love, my life, meaningful work.

I still believe in the web, and think that it can be used to do magical things, and that you really do get back what you put into it. It certainly has held such promise for me.

The ironic twist to this story is my partner and I have remained true to our ideals, and spent the past year working on projects that are important to us, out of which sprang an idea we thought we’d run up the flagpole to see if it had any merit. Right in the midst of the legendary dotcom debacle, it got funded.

Peter Reid, Design Director, ourcommon.com

I am doing just fine, and I have finally caught up on my sleep. It is true that I was a victim of the falling dotconomy, but I am living a different career track than my father did. Hence, I expected the cutback, and expect to see a few more as my days pass.

I had worked for a larger web consulting firm, so I saw all the strings that the news media is pulling apart currently. I was cut, and then asked to return as a freelancer shortly afterward.

So –  you rid me away, take my benefits and my worthless stock options and then ask me back to contract? Damn….  Well –  I guess I’ll see you Monday, because I just spent the last of my vacation money.

On the other side of the fence –  I have been diligent and busy as a bee. The light in this relentless storm comes in the form of a few words –  small front-end design.

The VCs didn’t want to give money for a two-week, 175K define phase for a new project. The gems in the business today are the small ventures, completed by small groups of designers and builders who gathered all their experience from the consulting companies.

Adam Greenfield, Internet Marketing Strategist, e-agency (jollies at v-2 Organisation)

I’m professionalizing, actually: extending and deepening my skills in the area of information architecture, which I think is the growth area in web design. I hope this will recession-proof me, for now and further downstream. I also think good IA is a way of “giving back.”

Alec Pollak, Creative Director, Web, btldesign

Horrible to say, but the industry coming apart like a slowly bursting balloon seems to have its advantages for companies like ours. We are a twenty three year old design firm that does everything from websites to television commercials, and have kept our ranks at twenty five people or so. In the past year we have been looking to expand our staff, especially our web teams, and in doing so have seen the market change.

Survival isn’t our issue –  we need to snatch up the good people from the failed companies before our old media/hybrid competitors get them first. How do we do that? Keep up with who’s doing what in all our professional circles and keep an eye on what’s happening with which dotcoms.

Most importantly, though, we stress to new applicants the qualities that we possess that their former companies might not have had: stability (no new business plan every three weeks), longevity (we’ll be here in three weeks, and in three years…), a strong design ethic (design didn’t start with the invention of Mosaic), and a rich history and years of experience to learn from.

Kitty Mead, Freelance Web Designer, Ink2Art

The only thing I’m doing differently is trying to broaden my technical capabilities. I don’t feel that I, as a lone freelancer, am feeling the pinch as severely as a larger design firm.  My needs are less overall, and my clientele are a more select group of people. As Babe Ruth once said, “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.”

Dan V. Licht, Designer, laboratory13.com, instafluff.com, angel-devil.com

I work in a large B2B company with a few divisions. There were some cutbacks (6%). I think it’s always difficult to deal with unwarranted firings, but that’s life. My company is trying to gain new business from industries that they never thought of competing in before (more entertainment, fashion). Companies can’t have the mentality that they should only go for businesses with high margins; so we are trying to look at work with fresh eyes. For instance,  how much money we charge, how long it takes to produce.

The problem all stems for the venture capitalists, who came in to the market and flooded it with all these big design firms that were not focused on the design but on getting rich –  and if that’s why you’re in this industry then get the fuck out. Go become a football player. Leave the design to the designers.

The solution is to go back to the basics (so to speak), make it about the design, make it about giving the client the best, take all the sexy, beautiful, personal sites and slowly work in what makes the web that we know into the web the world will know. If you have the love, you’ll get the business.

mschmidt, Creative Director, Adcore

We are surviving just fine due to our inexhaustible supply of Swedish-grown, Kevlar-wearing strategy consultants that we can use as cannon-fodder if the going gets rough. If we run into problems, we’ll just fire a bunch of these puppies and watch our stock soar. It’s like printing money!

John Halcyon Styn, Digital Visionary, CockyBastard.com

Well, my old company, CollegeClub.com, went bankrupt and was bought by a competitor. My new company, CitizenX.com,  is unable to get funding and survives on its founders’ credit card debts.

To survive, I moved into a webcam House (TheRealHouse.com) to avoid paying rent. And I subsist on a diet of potatoes and ice. The alternative would be to get a real job ... and that is unthinkable.

Craig Hockenberry, Chief Typist, The Iconfactory, Iconfactory Design

I think our success can be attributed to two things: focusing on our greatest talent,  and the diversity with which we apply that talent. At the Iconfactory, we have learned to create world-class icons. Originally, our website was a way to give away the things we loved creating. As we played, we honed our talent. As that talent grew, so did the number of people who were willing to pay for it.

Our talent has been expressed in many ways: in the design of our website, in the icons we give away, in the software we sell, and in the clients we delight. These activities may not all generate cash flow, but they do give us great sense of satisfaction. And that is the greatest success of all.

kylie gusset, frontendgeek, gusset.net

self confidence –   being able to put yourself out there, whether it be a personal site, contacting clients/future employers, or an interview. constant learning – there’s always something to find out about and explore (even more so when you’re in between work).

the personal site –   importance of these has been rammed home to me watching someone go from $500 a week to $500 an hour, with the aid of showcasing their skills via a personal site. unlike business sites, you have total control to make it yours.

Derek M. Powazek, Writer, Designer, Consultant, Powazek Productions

Almost five months ago, I quit a good job to write a book. It was a risky thing to do, but I figured I could always go back to freelancing when I was done. There’s always freelancing.

And now, with the book half done and my savings dwindling, I’m not so sure there’ll be that much work to be had on the other side. All of my friends in this business are suddenly looking for work. The constant stream of clients has dwindled for some, dried up entirely for others.

Everyone I talk to is painting a brave face on this. “It’s just the shakeout we knew was coming,” they say. “This’ll force all the money-grubbing dotcommers out,” they say. “This is a good thing,” they say.

But I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m just being too emotional (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I wish that we could all stop rationalizing this, just for a while, and call it what it is: a death.

It’s the death of our webbed-out way of life. The web biz was fucked up and due for a fall, sure. But it was ours. It was out moment in the sun. And now it’s over, baby, and it will never come back.It’s important to mourn. For a while. Then life will go on as it always does.

Daniel, Designer & Developer, Waferbaby

By working for myself! Start-ups are all well and good, but I’d rather be a free-range web monkey able to drift through the gossamer pillows of contract work, than be tied down to www dot yournamegoeshere dot com.

Jeff Clark, Founder, Internet Brothers

My fortune from the web lies in the good will of community and the simple fact that I don’t have to do it for a living. Sorry, but a 27 year Information Technology career for a large multi-national assures that I eat regularly and sleep indoors without having to rely on click-throughs and design portfolios. Fallback security engenders serenity. However, the meager supplement from affiliations and freelance small potatoes site development has all but dried up. I recognize the pain in the industry.

Internet Brothers was founded on the spirit of helpware –  you have to give it back to keep it. That hallmark has been moderately successful in branding the IB name. My day job provides sustenance for a continued Web presence. Advancing the motivation (learn – apply –  share) renews opportunity for growth in the medium.

Satchell Paige said, “Don’t look behind you, they may be gaining.” Never stop learning and communicating lest it all becomes vapor aspiration.

carole guevin, chief imagineer, netdiver.net  –  new media portal

A) I’ve been predicting/hoping for this correction for over two years.  Though it may sound like a doomsday scenario (or at least pessimistic), the basis of this assumption is rooted in good old business sense.  In my opinion,  any business lacking solid R&D in the development of their business model –  for example, the precocious launch of Business to customer models –  was a complete flop. (Boo.com/Pets.com/Mercata.com since it’s still the Business to Business era.) The lack of sound forecasting of revenue models, over-funded start-ups charging/spending enormous amounts of money for little/NO results, hypermediatized, half-crazed clients who wanted a piece of the virtual pie, all conspired to become flying elephants who were going to need a much need back-to-reality slap somewhere in the near future.B) The true positive side is that the companies who have bellied up, who have sold vaporware and are struggling with a board screaming for profits are no longer our competitors! They are the compost in which we can root, find sustenance and livelihood.  Clients are now less ignorant and more expectant of results when expressing their web needs.  This is the right time for the pioneers of who have slowly grown, who have been both observers and contributors for countless hours during the emergence of the web –  those who have kept a determined outlook and weathered all kinds of adversities (lack of funds, lack of resources, lack of competent team players, lack of personal life, lack of sleep).  They have become dedicated and rooted in the ever changing demands of our industry, they understand that you can’t be all things to every client.  They will grow from the rumbles.  Their talk is reality talk and business is about answering one’s needs not inventing needs.  Will the real players stand up,  please!

Mike Cina, Designer, trueistrue.com, mikecina.com

Month six: Leave me be. I was taking a walk and I saw this silver ship on shore. ’Free Ride,’ it boasted. I quickly hopped aboard. Where I was going, only the man upstairs knew.

Days later, the ship stopped by an island. The crew charged and threw me in the ice cold water, then sped off.I swam to shore, not knowing what was going on. All I knew was ... I was alone.

I started finding things on the island; it looked as if someone had lived there before me. Searching, I found wonderful items to play with and work on. The more I looked, the more I found. Some of the items were so cool, I stayed up for nights playing with them. Eventually I started creating my own things and played with them non-stop. Sometimes it was hard to sleep.Keep the boat ashore. I don’t want to come home.

Christopher Schmitt, Senior Design Technologist, MindComet

Surviving the dotcom implosion very well. It helps to work for a company that treats its employees well –  not lavishly –   but also shares concerns openly about making sure the bottom line is met. It’s very rare to work for a company that implores you to work smart, not hard.

Teresa Martin, COO and VP, Strategic Planning, MerlinOne, Inc

My current company is MerlinOne. We develop powerful “visual asset management solutions” –  that is, we help people store, manage, and use collaboratively large collections of photos, graphics, PDFs, QuickTime movies, and other visual objects. People like The New York Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, MSNBC, Marvel Comics, Pfizer Drug, and Reebok use our core system.

In late 1999, in mid-dotcom frenzy, we launched MerlinNet. This was to be an e-commerce network, through which newspapers could offer prints of the best of today’s photojournalism.  Shortly thereafter we decided an ASP version of Merlin would also be an exciting and timely offering. Needless to say, an e-commerce play did not take off quite as expected, and the hot hot ASP market isn’t –  but this cycle forced us to do some good analysis of what our strengths really were and in the harsh light of post-boom day I think we’re actually better positioned than we were when e-commerce sounded so sexy.

Let me explain! We first jumped into e-commerce because, well, the drumbeat for it seemed to be everywhere and we had this great set of customers (most of the leading newspapers in North America) who had a lot of really incredible photography. It was visual! It was immediate! It had that little e in its name! How could we miss? A year and many deep breaths later, we realized that we did have a good idea, but it wasn’t quite what we thought at first. What we had was a way to meet our customer’s needs –  a way to help publications handle the very real issue of handling reprints through the online medium. To have this product survive the reality wall that hit last year meant we had to go back to fundamentals and to understand what value both the web and our applications added. Once we did that, we remembered again that the web is about connecting people, connecting different physical locations, and providing a service in a distributed, time-free way.

Getting off the ASP bandwagon was a similar healthy realization –  once we started understanding (or remembering) the real reasons why hosting services make sense in certain environments, we were able to identify REAL hosted products –  including a version of both our core archive and managment product and a new e-commerce product based on our experience with MerlinNet and to offer them in a way that makes good business sense for both us and our customers.

The lesson is, I think, that one doesn’t think creatively while in the midst of a boomlet –  but that once we’ve shaken that fuzz out of our heads we can start to move into the next (and more interesting) phase of web development, in which the web is a truly useful component of solving very real creative problems.

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