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Mon, May 20, 2002 - Page 21 News List

German dotcoms lose their luster


Germany may be one of the world's major economies, but the Internet there, like everywhere else, is in a major funk.

Indeed, if the Internet economy in Germany were described as a patient, it would probably be diagnosed as critically ill. A few of its limbs have already been amputated, but now it's the psyche that is suffering the most.

After spectacular industrial bankruptcies and sharp declines in the economy, the Internet sector appears to have lost its desire for visionaries.

"Every year we have found a new attraction," recalls Alexander Felsenberg, the business director of the German Multimedia Association. Yet when managers and experts come together at this year's German Multimedia Congress (http://www.dmmk.de) in Stuttgart, Germany, no new revolutions will be competing for the attention of visitors.

In order to calm their own nerves and to awaken new hope, the multimedia organizers have looked to metaphysics. Philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has declared himself ready to serve as the congress's guest speaker, and to offer his thoughts about the anthropology of the new media.

An obvious theme for any speech related to the Internet today could be the fact that one of the hottest sites is called dotcomtod.com (German for dotcom-death.com). The site's inventor, a Berlin woman named Lanu, collects the complaints of workers from sickly start-up firms.

Yet Lanu rejects the idea of a total Internet crisis. It's the euphoria, the uncritical quoting, the all-around embellishments, and the feeling of intoxication that has seen its day, Lanu feels.

Indeed, more and more firms are in fact offering online solutions and networked business functions via the Internet -- businesses intended to satisfy existing business needs and that stand a real chance of surviving.

Indeed, the firms that have survived thus far are bringing together the products and infrastructure of the bankrupted firms.

Product lines that cannot demonstrate a crisis-proof business model and revenue stream are being put under the microscope.

Online advertising has to this point brought disappointing revenues all around world, meaning that most Internet content will no longer be offered for free in the future.

Show me the money

"If you can't bill it, kill it," the motto now runs for many firms in the sector. The mobile Internet, including subscription based services to download information over a cellphone, is setting the path for the future of Web business. The speedy wireless radio standards GPRS and UMTS appear primed to aid in this development.

Even at the 2001 Multimedia Congress, few traces of the enthusiasm from years past could be felt. Instead, the air of a soap opera has taken over. Internet investor Kim Schmitz, alias Dr. Kimble, has lent a touch of infamy to the proceedings.

The former hacker, famous for his luxurious lifestyle, was arrested in January in Thailand and will face charges of insider trading, among others, before a German judge.

Peter Kabel, once an admired VIP at the congress, and his firm Kabel New Media were forced to throw in the towel last summer. Even Kabel's personal designer's desk was sent off to the auctioneer's gavel.

Similarly, Stuttgart's Internet software firm Brokat fell apart after overly aggressive expansion leaving small investors holding the bag.

Nevertheless, laid-off employees from start-ups like these will be in full force at the congress. The event's organizers are offering a reduction on entry fees to unemployed workers from the industry.

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