Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Dotcom daftness again? Or is it real?

It's the sort of idea that we used to talk about breathlessly in innovation centre coffee meetings with other Internet entrepreneurs, swapping stories of the latest daft idea to get a squillion dollars of funding. Not that the ideas we had weren't daft too. My best conversations were with then Oxford graduate student Alex Straub, of the splendidly daft (hey, I too was a believer once), who probably personally made a few million from Italian investors Seat Pagine Gialle before mondus went belly-up. Back in 1999 Alex and I would go all googly-eyed at crazy Internet ideas, the madder the better.

So here's the idea - and it comes from a DPhil Biochemistry student at Oxford. (Hurrah for the biochemistry training - it's so darned versatile!)

A website where you buy moments in time. Your first kiss, it's suggested, or perhaps the moment you were offered a book deal. For $1 per minute you get to baggsy that moment and upload content which will be hosted in perpetuity, to share and share again with everyone in the world.

Thomas Whitfield apparently pitched this to Dan Wagner, himself a wily Internet entrepeneur, the guy behind the business information service M.A.I.D and then Dialog...and now the investment fund Bright Station Ventures, at a competition run by the Oxford Entrepreneurs. Instead of giving the £5,000 prize, Dan Wagner offered Whitfield and his associates access to the whole $100 million fund to develop and idea that I'm guessing they think will be the new Youtube. Wagner thinks that Designthetime (now known as miomi) captures the whole zeitgeist of the Internet.

Except...Youtube, Facebook, MySpace and all those sites on which we all frantically upload content to our hearts content...are free. What's to stop Yahoo or Google setting up something like this, and not charging?

When the whole dotcom thing collapsed it did so largely because most of the new businesses had non-existent revenue streams, and were spending money much, much faster than they could possibly make it. The smart money flew away and settled on the few safer bets, like Google and Yahoo. So respect is due to these guys for building in a user-driven revenue stream from the beginning. But will people pay for this frivolity? It will be interesting to see.

I can't see how this won't be imitated. For one thing, what will I do when I discover that my special moment has been nabbed? Will I upload content for my second favourite moment? Or will I go to a rival site, one that's quite possibly free?

I like being all sceptical, but deep down I really hope it works. It was a great feeling, the belief that a graduate student could spin a yarn and end up running a multi-million dollar business. I Googled Alex recently - he looks to be doing pretty, pretty fine.

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