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Texas Observer EDITORIAL From Dot Com to Business as Usual 0 ne of the less gloomy speakers at Austin’s South By Southwest Interactive Conference this year was Danni Ashe, a California exotic dancer who bills herself as the only woman to have appeared on both the cover of Juggs and The Wall Street Journal. Vying for the title of the world’s “most downloaded woman,” Ashe is that endangered species, a successful Internet entrepreneur. Her company, Danni’s Hard Drive, begun in 1995 as an online fan club, has become a profitable subscription-funded website with 42 employees. At the conference, Ashe’s smart look \(grey cable-knit turtleneck, small gold more Journal than Juggs, and in speaking of her success, she downplayed the role of her sex appeal. “The biggest reason we’re profitable is that we never had any investment capital,” she announced, and went on to briskly lay out five different business models used by adult websites to turn a profit. Running an adult site boils down to “how to handle vast amounts of traffic and how to monetize that traffic,” she said. “The adult Internet is just a numbers game.” The charm of Ashe’s summary was that it seemed to distill the thousands of online ambitions and fantasies that have come and gone over the past few years into their pure form: the conversion of clicks to dollars. As the web bubble expanded, people apparently began to think this could be done rather easily. It was as if the Internet were going to facilitate a magically fluid interchange between brand and cash, a sort of virtual alchemy in which everyone’s home computer would host the latest, updated version of the marketplace’s secret formula. The recent decline of technology stocks has tempered those hopesat least when sex is absent from the equationand this was more than apparent at the SXSW conference the second week of March. The Austin Convention Center’s cavernous lecture halls were fittingly dim, the rows of chairs were halffull, and each morning’s keynote talk was preceded by an unfortunate video, depicting a flock of robot-type figures flying over downtown Austin, whose very silliness gave it a kind of unintended pathos. As the conference wore on, the NASDAQ’s record plunge led the national news, while locally, layoffs at an Internet company called Powered were the top business story. The question wasn’t why the conference seemed sparsely attended, but whether there was any point in going, period. There was a retrospective air to the discussions. In light of the chilly present climate and the uncertain future of web-based business, more than one speaker resorted to the long view. The tone was set during the first day’s keynote discussion between journalist John Heilemann and Industry Standard publisher John Battelle, who harkened back to those idealistic days before ven ture capital. “In the early 1990s the web was going to be this new medium for , new kinds of communication, new kinds of expression, new types of jour nalism and community,” said Battelle. But the old “information superhigh way” concept faded as the e-market place ascended, and “at the end of the day more mundane and boring things drive what new media really is,” Battelle said. “The space of interaction between customer and company is new media.” continued on page 13 VOLUME 93, NO. 6 A Journal of Free Voices Since 1954 Editors: Nate Blakeslee, Karen Olsson Managing Editor: Barbara Belejack Managing Publisher: Charlotte McCann Circulation Manager: Candace Carpenter Graphic Designer: Julia Austin Poetry Editor: Naomi Shihab Nye Copy Editor: Roxanne Bogucka Development Director: Susan Morris Interns: Jamie Kopf, Chris Womack Advertising Representative: Gene Akins Special Projects: Jere Locke, Nancy Williams Contributing Writers: Gabriela Bocagrande, Robert Bryce, Louis Dubose, Michael Erard, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Paul Jennings, Steven G. Kellman, Lucius Lomax, Jeff Mandell, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, John Ross. Staff Photographer: Alan Pogue Contributing Photographers: Jana Birchum,Vic Hinterlang, Patricia Moore, Jack Rehm. Contributing Artists: Jeff Danziger, Beth Epstein,Valerie Fowler, Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Ben Sargent, Gail Woods. Editorial Advisory Board: David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Bob Eckhardt, Sissy Farenthold, John Kenneth Galbraith, Lawrence Goodwyn, im Hightower, Maury Maverick Jr., Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid. In Memoriam: Cliff Olofson, 1931-1995 Texas Democracy Foundation Board: D’Ann Johnson, Jim Marston, Bernard Rapoport, Geoffrey Rips, Gilberto Ocahas. The Texas Observer entire contents copyrighted 02001, is published biweekly except every three weeks during January and August \(24 issues profit foundation, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Telephone: E-mail: [email protected] World Wide Web DownHome page: . Periodicals Postage l’aid at Austin, Texas. Subscriptions: One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13/year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 prepaid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes: The Texas Observer is indexed in Access: The Supplementary Index to Periodicals; Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981, The Texas Observer Index. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to The Texas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. The Books & the Culture section is partially /funded through grants from the City of Austin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission and the Writer’s League of Texas, both in cooperation with the Texas Commission on the Arts. 3/30/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3