~e; hearing the economic_social.internetwork

From human being <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Thu, 25 Apr 2002 07:52:05 -0500

  [although there are several articles pending being sent,
  this one merits going ahead of the rest for its original
  take, in one view, of the social dynamics of the internet,
  and secondly, the issue of information/internet archaeology
  which the author questions, and does exist somewhere between
  the fields of digital arching in the library sciences and
  fields of archaeology, with information preservation being
  one aspect (the software) and, for lack of a better descriptor,
  industrial archaeology dealing the artifacts of the recent past.]

Lessons in Failure

Michael P. Bruno

[see entire article for links to places mentioned in this article...]

David A. Kirsch loves failure, and he could be looking for you.

Kirsch, a newly hired assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the
University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, has
received a $300,500 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to study
and archive the boom and bust of the dot-com business era.

"I've always been attracted to lovable losers. Studying success is so
obvious, it's so trite," said Kirsch, who has a doctorate in history of
technology from Stanford University and has written a book on the
elusive electric car.

Those who got rich during the boom-and-bust years will have the
resources to tell their side of the story, Kirsch said -- and likely
"blame someone else, you can bet." Instead of delving into the blame
game of the dot-com era's high flyers, Kirsch wants "to produce a
history of the Internet working class."

Starting from the "bottom up," Kirsch is seeking "lowly" cube dwellers.
He wants to hear the stories of software developers and sales agents,
customer service representatives and their customers. In essence, his
project hopes to chronicle the stories of dot-com workers who were
caught up in the middle of the bubble, carrying out the risky and often
fatal business plans.

"A lot of what's interesting is the history of failure," said Jesse H.
Ausubel, a program director at the Sloan Foundation. "The dot-com boom
is one of the epic booms of business history. There really are only a
handful on this scale."

The Sloan Foundation, a 68-year-old nonprofit based in New York, is 
interested in preserving "the raw material of history." It has backed 
archival projects on Charles Darwin, Thomas A. Edison, Kurt Godel 
and, most recently, the Internet.

But the Internet era's digital nature could be its historical 
Achilles' heal, Ausubel said.

"If you think of past events, historians use relics," said Ausubel, who
also is director of the program for the human environment and senior
research associate at The Rockefeller University in New York City.
Ausubel noted that the Internet era's relics -- e-mails, PowerPoint
presentations and Web sites -- are intangible.

"If this stuff isn't captured soon, there's a very high probability it
could be lost altogether. They're disappearing even as we speak. Every
one of us hits dead links every day. This is one of the great
contradictions of the dot-com era," Ausubel said.

Kirsch's mandate is to create a permanent archive to be housed at the 
library at the
University of Maryland at College Park. Kirsch specifically wants copies of
dot-com business plans.

"These business plans are like the cathedrals of medieval Europe,"
Kirsch said.

But he also will consider some offline relics. "I've got one guy who has
the lock and chain to lock up a Webvan warehouse. I know this stuff is
out there," Kirsch said.

Kirsch and Ausubel are hoping that people will heed the call "to create
the stuff of history." To gather archival material, Kirsch is working 
to launch bizplanarchive.org, and he is partnering with Nick Hall, an 
entrepreneur who created http://www.startupfailures.com/ . {URL data 
fixed. ~e.org}

Yet, sounding eerily like the business plans of so many dot-bombs,
Kirsch laughed as he acknowledged that his project faces tough hurdles.

"It is an experiment like a lot of those companies," he said. If the
archive project doesn't work out, "I'll have to convince a lot of people
it was worth $300,000."

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