"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 26 July 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Golden Shower


[Taco Bell]

The AP may have just declared the

web mainstream, but it takes

more than URLs on Taco Bell

place mats and a functional Fed

Ex page to define a medium in

the minds of the masses. TV?

"That's where you watch the

X-Files." The phone? "A dime a

minute." Radio? "The thing that

sits between the steering wheel

and the glove compartment." But

the web? "An enormous electronic

library of networked computers"

is more likely to scare virgins

away than explain its appeal.

The great cultural mnemonic for

the web is still up for grabs,

but a slew of kindred start-ups

think they've pegged the answer:

"The web? That's that thing

where you get paid to look at




As far-flung as it is

far-fetched, this idea has been

implicit since at least the turn

of the century, when publishers

realized they could practically

give away their magazines if

they pulled in enough ad dollars

to keep their bottom lines well

wiped. As a digital daydream,

notions of paying consumers to

volunteer their mouths for

narrowcast fishhooks were being

suggested no later than 1993,

when Don Peppers and Martha

Rogers published The One-to-One

Future, an avid and articulate

panegyric to 21st-century direct

marketing. All of which makes

Goldmail's lawsuit against

Cybergold.com, alleging

trademark infringement, deeply



The key dynamics are nearly

identical - users are polled,

matched to advertisers, and

compensated for logging into

personalized mailboxes and

reading and interacting with

commercial messages

custom-tailored to their demo.

Both of their respective

iconographies revolve around

fanciful riches - Cybergold

evokes the fortunes of the

pharaohs while Goldmail suggests

an unlikely wheelbarrow full of

booty. And their reward systems

are like two peas in a pod -

Goldmail offering print-and-clip

coupons and Cybergold offering

CG "currency."



But the most remarkable, though

inactionable, similarity might

be the degree to which they're

both careering toward failure.

Any service that delivers primed

consumers to retailers while

producing above-average response

rates is bound to prosper, but

it's going to take more than

50 cent coupons to get people

on the web to subject themselves

to pop quizzes on the

Abdominizer. Nat Goldhaber and

the marketing luminaries (Regis

McKenna and Jay Chiat) he's

recruited for Cybergold might as

well give Goldmail a free

placement on their site and let

the confused users choose for

themselves - both services are

too rudimentary to buy the

attention they need to succeed.


[Cyber Gold]

Cybergold's real crime isn't

theft of intellectual property,

but institutional myopia. While

most of budding Kroks of the net

ponder schemes of building net

services worth paying for, the

net sighs in unison, recognizing

that we should, instead, be

getting paid to watch this shit -

and advertising is just the

dog bone on the jewelcase. The

day CyberGold, GoldMail,

FreeRide, Juno, or Hypernet

succeeds in amassing a detailed

demo database of any substantial

size and offers to sell matches,

it won't just be the advertisers

who'll be looking for a link -

it'll be anyone in business. And

as long as the cost to engage a

likely consumer is less than the

associated revenue, it'll be a

blissful transaction.



Goldhaber, no stranger to

multimedia fiascos, gets it

backwards when he hopes to

convince content providers to

accept CyberGold's "currency."

Like a discarded Altoid eaten

off a restroom floor, the flavor

of this implementation is less

curiously strong than curiously

wrong. In this networked

iteration of Fascination,

traffic is currency - Goldhaber

and Co. would be better advised

to trade placement on their

service than funny money. As the

web expands, and logical

traversing of its horizon

becomes less and less tractable,

the appeal of a default home site

crammed with functional

knowledge of your tastes and

idiosyncracies shifts from

merely desirable to



But even if Cybergold and

Goldmail were to resolve their

conflicts, partner with Firefly,

mortar well-heeled consumers

with credit, and match Swoon.com

to receptive, balding tech

support specialists, our moment

of epiphany will not yet have

arrived. It'll take more than

getting paid to watch movie

trailers, more than getting

awarded with value coupons that

we can piss away at our favorite

cyber-casinos. (And more than

clawing our way out of our debt

ditches with the simple purchase

of a FatBusters videocassette.)

The moment of reckoning, and

digital enlightenment, will come

when thousands of Cybergold

users are forced to read through

a Suck column and take a short

test to verify their digestion.

For that pleasure, we'd gladly

pay 50 cents.

courtesy of The Duke of URL