2003: The Year That Wasn’t

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, because it happens every year, but somehow it is still slightly startling. With the calendar officially out of pages and the rest of 2003 now measurable in days, another year has sped past.

It’s about time now for news organizations to start collecting their biggest stories of the year. Those lists do more than just fill news pages during the slow holidays, of course — they lay the foundation upon which future historians can build a rich portrait of what life was like in any given year.

It might seem that no year should be without its highlights and lowlights. But for e-business, 2003 might go into the books as the year that really wasn’t.

Good Riddance

Unlike 2000 or 2001, for instance, this wasn’t the year of the high-profile company collapse. There were no Webvans or WorldComs taking billions of dollars worth of paper assets into insolvency with them.

In fact, the only blip on the failed-company radar screen in 2003 was the demise of, the spy-camera e-tailer that helped unleash the scourge of pop-under ads on all Web users. We could say they’ll be missed, but, for one thing, they’re not really gone — just trying to hide from creditors — and for another, they simply wouldn’t be missed even if they were gone.

Even beyond the realm of bankruptcies, high-wire business dramas were few and far between. For a while, there was talk that America Online might get the boot from Time Warner, the very company it bought not so long ago. In the end, however, Time Warner decided to keep the company but expunge the name.

We did have the Oracle-PeopleSoft brouhaha, but when boiled down to its essence, what is that really? A personality scuffle, it appears, complete with name-calling and enough stubbornness to open a thousand-acre mule ranch. That mess will be cleaned up, one way or another, in 2004.

Three Little Letters

Neither will 2003 be remembered as the year of the blockbuster IPO. The best anyone could muster was a lot of speculation about Google and a mildly surprising filing from Orbitz late in the year. If anything, 2003 was the anti-IPO year, the year in which shareholders stiffed by underwriters during the public offering bonanza days won a $1 billion court settlement.

On another front, retailers are complaining that there’s no single must-have for the 2003 holiday season, no equivalent of the DVD player or PlayStation 2 from previous years, no golden grail of gifts to send people scurrying to stores both real and virtual. Instead of leaping ahead this year, technology seemed content to simply keep becoming faster, stronger, sleeker and less expensive.

There were no secret scooters waiting in the wings, nothing to carry the flag as the symbol of progress in the technology world.

Not So Bad

But 2003 wasn’t all bad on a business front. There were some strong quarters, which helped fuel an overall sense that things were getting better, though the degree to which they’d be better was never agreed upon. And there were some big acquisitions, which kept the tech business landscape in flux and held everyone’s interest while we waited.

And waited. Because that’s what 2003 feels like as it winds down. A year of waiting. History will probably look back on it as a transition year. It took a long time to rebuild after September 11, 2001, after all, with a lot of effort spent just getting back to level ground from the horrible pit we had spiraled into. We held our breath as another war broke out overseas, waiting.

We found out in 2003 that optimism is easy to say but much harder to actually achieve. Still, in the end, we decided that it’s preferable to the alternatives. Investors pushed the Dow back above 10,000, an early Christmas present for everyone with a 401(k).

Who knows? Maybe history will find enormous significance in 2003, calling it a turning point. But as usual, while it was happening, it didn’t seem like much of anything to write home about.

Note: The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times, its management or parent company ECT News Network, Inc.

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