Dot-com deathwatch

A new site rewards those who predict the new economy's losers.

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The New Economy’s favorite vindictive game has long been one of guessing which overfunded, overhyped dot-com company is doomed to fail. But now that the industry is starting to come down around our ears, the nervous Schadenfreude is palpable — Boo.com! APBNews.com! Third Age! They’re all toast! People love to crow about the demise of their dot-com brethren, while secretly praying that it doesn’t happen to them.

So, it was just a matter of time before someone conceived the Web site Fuckedcompany.com — the perfect post-ironic betting game for the digital age. Predicting the end of the economy as we know it was never so fun.

The site, whose name and logo play off the New Economy journal Fast Company, is a kind of riff off the Celebrity Dead Pool Web site, which lets fans guess at which of their favorite stars is doomed to die and rewards the winners. But at Fuckedcompany, it’s the business plans that are the bet.

The idea is simple: Sign up, and choose five companies you think are doomed. If and when those companies start having trouble — whether it be a nasty lawsuit, a layoff, or flat-out bankruptcy — you receive points based on a complicated system that awards up to 100 points for “severity.” The popularity of your choice, however, reduces the points you’ll receive, so that a more obscure choice will help you climb up the ranks faster than, say, picking the obviously suffering CDNow. Each week, members get to add five more companies to their list.

If, for example, you had predicted the demise of APBnews.com before it announced it was out of money on Monday, you would have netted 160 points; a prediction of Third Age’s layoffs of last week was worth 159 points; the discovery that Barnesandnoble.com was exposing its customers’ personal data meant that those who picked that company received 115 points. All “fucks” have to be confirmed by the Web site Dotcomfailures, the sister site to Fuckedcompany created by Kaplan’s roommate Ryan Nitz, which is attempting to chronicle each and every industry shakeout.



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And what do you get if you win? Well, there is no prize, except for the glory of winning; but currently, someone named “diskore” is pulling ahead with 174 points. All the more predictive power to them.

Fuckedcompany.com was created by one Philip J. Kaplan, a New York Web designer who left for Brazil just a few days after launching the site just over a week ago (Dotcomfailures.com was built by his roommate, Ryan Nitz). He was inspired, he says, by the constant news of layoffs and lawsuits, and decided to come up with a easy idea that could generate more traffic than your average overfunded start-up. “I’m not a pessimistic person but a lot of the ideas seem to be ridiculous, and are receiving an even more ridiculous amount of money,” he says from a hotel in Rio de Janeiro. “The site is not to say that all dot-coms are doomed — but a lot of them are.”

The most interesting part of the project, he says, is watching which companies are chosen as failures-to-be. While a surprising number of players are secretly choosing their own company as a potential “fuck,” other popular choices are Napster, eBay, and Toys ‘R’ Us. “Watching the companies being picked is more interesting than looking at the stock market,” Kaplan laughs.

The site has already signed up tens of thousands of players, he claims, but he has no plans to make any money from the project. Kaplan does, however, have an advertisement on the sites for SETI, the screensaver that crunches data to assist in the search for alien life forms. So, if you’re not having much luck predicting the future in this bleak IPO landscape, maybe you’ll get lucky and find a UFO instead. Stranger things have happened.

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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