Web Savvy: Here's Looking at You, Webvan
By all accounts, 2001 was a Darwinian year for the Web. The well-run and
(dare I say) lucky companies with a good idea made it, while hundreds that had
no business even dreaming of an IPO fell off the face of the Net. Some failures
left users in the lurch (see "
There are several defunct Web companies I'll miss, but I won't lose sleep over others. The weeding-out will surely continue in 2002. I'm hoping the insightful Web magazine Salon.com and the informative health site Drkoop.com make it. And if Efax were ever to close down, I'd be dejected. Only time will tell.
Pioneers are often the first casualties in any new venture. Take, for example, Internet-only banks, which became irrelevant once major offline financial institutions began to offer their services on the Web. WingspanBank.com, an online-only bank launched by Bank One, forced the Citibanks of the world to catch up with the times and roll out new services. As a result, the Web has become an important part of how people handle their money--moving it, paying bills, and reviewing statements.
Another site I liked was HotOffice. For small companies with employees in different locales, this virtual office site served as an ideal, Web-based intranet. It included e-mail, chat, scheduling, document tracking, and more. The service, however, will be back online in a new incarnation by the time you read this. Thruport Technologies recently acquired and merged the HotOffice technology with its own program. Thruport HotOffice will cost $5 a month per person.
Cynics say that no Web failure depicts the folly of Internet-mania better than online grocer Webvan. But Webvan and its rivals in the grocery delivery business were great at what they did, even though they delivered only to select cities. This type of service is bound to make a comeback. Online items cost a bit more than those purchased at a store (when you factor in delivery costs and factor out in-store specials), but when the Net grocer sends you an e-mail coupon for milk the day you run out, or a notice saying the cold medicine you bought has been recalled, you'll appreciate the service.
Still, I wasn't surprised that Kozmo.com failed. Kozmo specialized in rapid delivery of snacks and movies in urban areas where such items were often available within walking distance. Yet Kozmo did what it promised--delivered Coke, Doritos, and a copy of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life in a half-hour or less.
Online currency seemed like a good idea until we grew more comfortable using credit cards online. Flooz.com and Beenz were two that didn't last.
And who expected people to buy furniture online (Furniture.com) based on tiny photos? At least when you order from the Pottery Barn catalog, you can stop by a store to sit on the couch first.
The list of failures--Biztravel, CDWorld--goes on and on. Surely Charles Darwin is watching somewhere--and jotting down field notes in his Apple Newton.