E-commerce: touched by an angel

Forget Bill Gates. I have met the new, true captains of e-commerce: my Uncle Charlie and his crewmates.

For months I’ve watched the ‘net tsunami surge from Wall Street to Main Street and back again. But until very recently, I’d never appreciated how much our industry and professional fates had been optioned to technology landlubbers.

I was prowling the vast halls of the “Internet Inferno” trade show and exhibition in Rhode Island (that’s right — it covered the entire state). In the sea of bald, bobbing heads, I spotted a bald head I recognized: my Uncle Charlie. “Ahoy!” I sputtered. “What are you doing here?”

“Just looking at companies.” He parsed my puzzled look.

“You know, I’ve been pretty active in this investing club we started with some fellows from the Knights of Columbus and my WWII sub crew. We’ve made a bunch of money investing in these Internet stocks. So last month we decided to start our own ‘angel’ group. We go around financing new Internet businesses that look promising. We call ourselves ‘Charlie’s Angels.'”

I managed an off-balance chuckle. Had he found anything good at the show today?

“Lots,” Uncle Charlie replied. “C’mon.” He found a clean table at the Snak-Shak, then took several manila folders from an old Radio Shack bag. “Take a gander at these beauties.”

I opened the first business plan and turned to the summary.

Cons N’ Kids. This innovative on-line service matches specially trained work-release prisoners with families and agencies looking for quality day or after-school care. Future plans call for a variety of complementary Web-based offerings, including “Bunkin’ In,” “Street School” and “Yard Time.” We’re breakin’ out of the day-care doldrums!

I looked up. Charlie flicked some honey-bun crumbs from his flannel shirt and waved. “Keep reading!”

Dumpster.com. The ‘net-age way to dine at the nation’s five-star restaurants. Unsold specials from leading gourmet chefs arrive at your door via overnight express — less than 48 hours after they’re featured! Hundreds of unforgettable gastric adventures are just a mouse click away.

“C’mon!” Uncle Charlie shouted. “Read ’em all!”

CyberScrubbers. Don’t let greasy keyboards, smeary screens and mucky mice wipe out all the fun from your Web-surfing experience! This breakthrough service dispatches specially trained technicians to home or office to restore your computing investment to its original squeaky-clean condition. We guarantee a desktop so clean you can eat off it — but for heaven’s sake don’t!

The-zen-zone.com. Overstimulated by stupid shockwaves, dancing banners and other annoying Web noise? Then stop and spend a few quiet moments at The Zen Zone: the Internet’s first completely empty rest stop. Bathe in the soothing, silent glow of gentle nothingness. You’ll reemerge to face the ‘net completely centered and rejuvenated. What is the sound of one hand surfing? Silence, of course!

Net Nose. Our company brings the power of scratch-and-sniff technology to any Web user equipped with our patented new “CyberSchnozz” peripheral and 28.8K modem. Personal hygiene sprays, potpourri, pipe tobacco, vacation spots — a world of on-line smells comes alive in full olfactory glory.

“This is … quite a portfolio,” I stammered. Didn’t want to discourage the old guy. He was, after all, my mother’s only brother. And a millionaire. I’d be gentle.

“So what happens when all these ‘net stocks hit low tide and start to sink?” I shouted. “You and your club members will wind up shipwrecked.”

“Well … I don’t know. We are looking at buying a mink ranch near Vegas … Anyway, I gotta go — I have a 2 o’clock with some guys who invented an ‘enterprise battery charger.'”

Maglitta, the industry editor of ComputerWorld in Framingham, Mass., can be reached at Joe_Maglitta@computerworld.com.