The joy and misery of the Internet

The Internet is fascinating because it signifies different things to different people. It has been called a communication revolution, a social equalizer, an unsurpassed business tool, a privacy nightmare, a dangerous public evil and even a platform for world democracy.

But what it is not yet is simply the way things get done. Think, for example, of client/server – it once made headlines as the next great thing, now it’s just how we get through the day.

The Internet is not there yet. We still debate its use and misuse and its ultimate contribution to society. Following are three specific examples of this, but there are others.

Ode on a Subject line: Readers of this column know I’ve often railed against the gods of e-mail, mainly for their Inbox largesse. In that vein, I would like to send out an urgent appeal in support of the oft-abused Subject line.

Abused? Darn right. People don’t fill in the subject line at all, or they say something they think will make you read on – “Want to earn $5,000 an hour while watching Temptation Island?” – or they try to be cute with it. Here’s an example of the latter: I recently received an e-mail with the Subject line “Dumb-ass PR People…” and it continued in the body “…would have used the subject line to tell you what this pitch is about. We thought we’d let you find out yourself.”

Gee, thanks. That was one of 450 messages I needed to work through that day, and somehow the humour was lost on me. More importantly, it made me far less receptive to the pitch she was making. So, c’mon, let’s all help Subject lines achieve their full potential.

A eulogy for e-com fun: We’re told the e-com bubble simply had to burst, that start-ups have to play by the business rules of nature and that ultimately it is better for the stock market, for employees and for consumers that the unrealistic roller-coaster ride through Dot-Com Land has finally shuddered to a halt.

All that is true, but there is no denying the e-com odyssey was fun. It was a time of unreasonable optimism, free-flowing money and meteoric stock valuations. In other words, it was fun.

But that’s over now. E-com start-ups are either toast or they’ve matured into rational, every-day businesses. Look no further than, which recently announced it’s cutting 1,300 jobs, shutting two facilities and putting a third on seasonal duty. It’s also turning a profit in Q4.

Once Amazon makes profit you know the ride is over.

A doubtful prognosis for Napster: And that brings us inevitably to Napster. The file swapping service just got shot down by the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled Napster is not protected by fair use, is guilty of two kinds of copyright infringement, and inflicts significant harm to record companies.

Reluctant though I am to be an unhip curmudgeon, the court’s decision was probably the correct one. It seems contra-intuitive in the extreme to argue that Napster has no responsibility for what other people do with its service, and I have to say that I want to retain control over the fruits of my labour. While I’m sure people aren’t lining up to misappropriate this column it’s nice to know I have some legal recourse if someone is so undiscerning as to steal my work.