The Internet’s Desperation Day

I’m all for grass-roots efforts to boost awareness of the greatness of the Web, but “Back the Net Day”?

Why not just call it “Back Away from the Net Day”? Nothing is more repulsive than desperation, and this effort makes it sound as if the Internet is sticking its hand up one last time before going under for good.

Yes, times are tough. Layoffs seem to be coming at us without pause. Stock prices are so low that it hurts to even look at them. And the buzz — does anyone even remember the buzz?

But of all the ways to make things better, is holding hands and singing campfire songs really one of them?

This isn’t about baby seals or endangered whales or old growth forests, people, this is about a business proposition. And if it can’t stand on its own merits, that proposition has to be re-evaluated, strengthened and improved, not made the subject of some international pity party.

Brother, Can You Spare a Billion?

The other laughable part of this effort is the scale. The idea seems to be to recover the Internet’s losses by getting everyone to buy something online on April 3rd and to tell 10 of their friends to do the same.

Quaint. Will it work? With all the minute-by-minute measurement of Web traffic and sales, we’ll almost certainly find out.

But the losses have been staggering. A couple hundred “Back the Net” days might help, but one will have little more than symbolic impact.

So is there any value in symbolism or even a small burst of shopping activity? There can be, but in this case, it’s all about motivation. What’s driving the wave of people to support their online merchants? Pity? Fear they will become extinct?

Save the Amazon

That seems to be what the organizers of Back the Net Day want. Their plea for help includes this pitiful statement: “The Internet economy has slipped into a recession. If this trend continues, you might soon lose access to your favorite online store, greeting card site, news source, music site or financial chat group. Imagine the Internet without Excite, Yahoo! or Amazon.com.”

Fear and pity are great reasons to save the spotted owl, but e-commerce isn’t a helpless, fluffy little creature. At least it shouldn’t be.

People should want to buy online because it’s convenient, easy and even fun. They should support companies because they have sound business plans and realistic prospects for the future, not because they run a chat group you like.

That’s what makes the notion that everyone should run out and buy Internet stock Tuesday, while also telling 10 friends to do the same, extra absurd.

Fear of Not Flying

Investors will return to the Internet when they feel comfortable that all the damage that can be done has been done. Yes, some e-commerce stocks are trading at a fraction of their year-ago prices and seem like bargains. But others have fallen before them and never, ever stopped.

Somewhere out there is a person or institution who bought PlanetRx.com stock at US$242 a share. Maybe he sold somewhere on the way down and only took a small hit. But maybe not. Maybe he’s still holding it.

Its value today is about a thousandth what it was. If he bought 5 shares for a little more than $1,000, he could make little more than a dollar back by selling today.

So is it time to buy? No one seems convinced that it is.

Tragic Figures

One more thing: The whales, the owls, the old growth trees — they’re all innocents. Done in by others. The Internet has no one to blame but itself for its problems.

So, asking me to recycle my newspapers is one thing. Buying dolphin-free tuna? Sure.

But forking out my hard-earned money to save the Internet? I think not. This is one institution that neither needs nor deserves my pity.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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