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Where Do We Go From Here?

Statistics are sort of like a dashboard that helps you as you look down the road with limited visibility into the future. You can know how fast you're going, but your dashboard won't tell you about that fork in the road, nor which way to go (yeah yeah yeah, unless you have GPS). But looking back into history often does point the way. We humans have our patterns.

If you visit you'll see a 1928 stock certificate, owned by my grandfather, for the Boyes Airship Company. I use this graphic and story in my speeches. My mother, his daughter, told me the huge four-chambered lighter-than-air ship was the marvel of Monmouth County, New Jersey, which had a thriving industry in dirigibles. But it was too big to get out of the hangar, so the company went bankrupt.

One year after Jacob Gerson (my grandpa) bought his stock certificate, the stock crash of 1929 occurred. A couple years thereafter, the Hindenburg blew up in nearby Lakehurst, which put an end to commercial use of hydrogen-filled dirigibles. So there are three different ways -- from this vantage point in the timeline of the Boyes Airship Company -- that we can see they were doomed.

Many dot coms were overbuilt and over-funded and never got out of the hangar either. Most airship companies are gone. Out of the 600+ car companies around 100 years ago, we only have a handful worldwide today, and that number will continue to go down as well. GM's Oldsmobile closes out this year after about a 100-year run (not bad for a product life, no?).

There was the big speculative radio bubble earlier last century. CBS was once in the business of making TVs. As new technologies roll out, it stands to reason that companies are going to make mistakes due to poor visibility. Some survive-- many, if not most, don't.

Most of the Internet companies we've known in these early days haven't and will not survive. Very few will be recognizable, or even memorable, in a few short years. This is the nature of the Internet environment for those who wish to farm it. It takes tenacity, agility and a downright love of change -- which is exactly what most people run away from.

It pays to look at the profile of those who thrive in such an environment. Ford, Edison, Lindbergh, Sarnoff and the like had reserves of resilience and an uncanny sense of practicality. Practicality was a principle foundation of the Internet. That is the fabric of the Net and most everything that happens upon it.

When I hear marketers pontificate about how the ad banner is dead and how the Net won't become a true marketing medium until we have broadband through which we can send commercials or other moving imagery, I see that as an excuse not to make sense out of the tremendous marketing and sales tool that has cropped up within the reach of all of us.

I remember the ATT video telephone demo at the 1964 New York World's Fair. The one-inch by one-inch low resolution black and white picture traveled from one room to directly next door. That was the future, then. OK, here I am 37 years in the future now. Where's my video telephone? Everyone's supposed to have one by now. It was what seemed to be the logical extension of the plain old telephone of 1964. The only ones using video telephony are b2b conference callers and some CU-See-Me type users at home. What is widespread, instead, are easy, simple things like instant messaging and the like.

Remember push technology? Remember breathless headlines screaming "Is the Web Dead?" There are more PointCast and WebVans coming our way. There are also more successes like eBay on the way too. Wireless advertising? Don't hold your breath.

Before getting yourself wrapped up financially or professionally in some "revolutionary" concept, ask yourself if you must have whatever product that company is offering. Are you dying to watch the Sopranos on your computer? Is having your cell phone alert you that there's 20% off a double latte around the corner from you the cat's meow? No? Can you see other groups of people who must have these services? No? Then I'd pass on that company.

So lighter-than-air ships did not wind up dominating the skies. Did you know the top of the Empire State Building was originally designed with a mooring for dirigibles, whereby people would enter that building from the top? OK, that didn't work out. At least they repurposed that same space up there to house radio, and later, TV antennas.

P.S. If you have stock certificates from dot coms that have crashed and burned, hold onto them. They may be "collectibles" in another 70 years.

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