Nostalgia: a longing for the past, a fondness for a place and time gone by. And so to Prestalgia, a term coined some years back by an Internet analyst somewhere: a longing for the future, a yearning for a place and time yet to come.
Prestalgia was the undercurrent of the pre-bubble Internet era. Every business plan, flaky or otherwise, depended on the belief that growth expectations would be fulfilled, that critical mass would be reached and that, in this longed-for future place and time, new rules and ways of doing business would all prove to be justified.
So what happened? That future place and time is now. It's the end of an iconic year, 2001. If you had an IPO-bound business plan in the Internet boomtime of 1998, this is the end of your three-year forecast.
In 2001, business plans for flaky new Internet ventures have vanished. 'Pure-play' Web companies have gotten real, slimmed down to essentials or become clicks and mortar merchants. Business people still believe in the future of the Internet, but in these post-prestalgia times their beliefs are now grounded in reality.
Remember brochureware? The Internet lexicon term for 'inferior'. Five years ago, hotshot Web developers wanted to persuade you that unless your corner store's Website had Amazon-like bells and whistles, then you didn't 'get' the Internet. Got a small country hotel? Man, you need 3D walkthroughs, interactive chat with the chef and a CAD-based form to select your car parking space.
But brochureware is just what you need to research that holiday trip or product purchase -- no more, no less. We take it for granted now that small towns will have a simple visitor page on the Web, that hotel sites will offer some pictures of rooms and a direction map showing where the hotel is located. Fast-loading, no complications. With a phone number and address on the home page, above the fold. All those small business owners who ignored the hypesters back in 1998 can say that they 'get' the Internet just fine.
While the Boo.coms came and went, businesses that integrated the Web, like electricity, into the rest of their business powered on. So much for the new rules: companies where e-business has proved its worth now integrate it seamlessly. Entrepreneurs running these businesses don't care about dot.com business models, because they have a real-world one already.
Here's one: GetLenses.com sells contact lenses in an ordinary shop, in an ordinary city suburb. On the Web, they've got a no-nonsense ordering system which logs your eyesight prescription, allows for verification by your optician and posts you boxes of daily-disposable contact lenses at a discount. The software knows when you will run out and mails you a reminder to order more (one-click of course).
The company has no plans for world domination, just a tidy business with excellent margins (how heavy are contact lenses to ship?) and a by-the-numbers approach to their business. And it gets better: if you're short sighted, chances are that others in your family are too. So you'll spread the word.
Good margins on trusted branded products and automatic repeat business - GetLenses.com did nothing more than Web-enable its operations, keep its feet on the ground and grow by the Old Rules.
The future has arrived, folks. Dot-com mania, driven by prestalgia, was the sizzle; the sausage was old-fashioned businesses taking advantage of the Web and using it wherever it made sense.
Frank Quinn is the Publisher of TechCentral.ie
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