Dot-eyed optimist

Was reading the Sunday paper this morning and got pissed off. I don’t I ever get to read […]

Was reading the Sunday paper this morning and got pissed off.

I don’t I ever get to read the Sunday morning paper without getting pissed off about something. This morning my eye was caught by the headline San Francisco’s painted ladies have never looked so good, thanks to dot-com cash infusion. Reading the article it seems everyone agrees the city is looking better than ever, with tons of once-dilapidated buildings restored lovingly, but not everyone agrees on why they’ve finally got the treatment they deserve. The author of the book Painted Ladies says “I don’t think the dot-com people give a damn about anything except money, so why would they care how their house or their neighborhood looks?”

I don’t even know where to start with this sentence. Of course people with money care about how their house and neighborhood looks. Every drive through pacific heights or seaview or <insert your posh neighborhood here>? People with money care a whole hell of a lot. People with new money often like to look like they have old moneyand restoring houses is one way to achieve that. The dot-com people in San Francisco were often young media hipsters, and restoring a funky old house was much better than building some sprawling south-bay monster. So that’s the easy part of the sentence to dismantle.

The harder one is the first part: “I don’t think the dot-com people give a damn about anything except money” I don’t know about your dot-com, but at Egreetings getting rich was considered about as possible as winning the lottery, at least by the folks in the trenches. The engineers routinely told stories of losing money with their options during the first tech-craze, tainting us new-to-the biz folk’s green-eyed ways. So why did we work 70 hour weeks?

I think it was the nifty-factor. We were building something new, something that hadn’t happened before. We were changing lives in tiny ways. Yes, we really did buy into it– I didn’t say we weren’t ridiculous optimists, or silly idealists, I just said we weren’t in it just for the money.

I remember Tony –co-founder of Egreetings and chief evangelist– often sitting on the edge of someone’s desk, telling one of our favorite speeches like a dad retelling a kid’s favorite fairy tale at bed time: Email was soulless, email failed to carry emotions, it let folks down again and aging promoting misunderstandings and not caring the weight of our powerful human sentiments. And how an Egreeting was a rich medium, with pictures and sound, and could create a tool to allow people to express the full tone of their message.” We all knew it was kinda goofy, and we all kind of believed it anyway. And you know, sending ecards is the second most common task people do online. We did touch people’s lives in a small but nice way.

Ask Peter Merholtz about Epinions and he’ll go on and on about the possibilities of self-defining systems and community as decision making tool. Ask John Shiple about Big Step and he’ll talk about helping small businesses get online. Susan Gorbet at Snapfish will talk about how important people’s photos are to them, and how sharing those pictures online is magical for families sprawled across America. They won’t whine about lost stock gains, and they won’t talk about dot-coms with a sneer. Yes, it was a mad time, but it let strange new ideas see the light of day.

When we look at this time, I think we’ll see both the wackiness of a store devoted to selling panty-hose online, but we’ll also see that the crazy investing allowed some very good and useful ideas to see the light of day. I’m embarrassed to admit that before the web, I had sent my grandfather about two presents, total. Now he gets Christmas and birthday gifts thanks to Red Envelope and we have quadrupled our correspondence thanks to email and egreetings. Heck, I bought a stranger a book the other day, just because I was reading their blog and saw they had a terrific novel on their Amazon wishlist.

Even after the craziness of tulip-madness the tulip fields of Holland continue to be beautiful. In San Francisco the newly restored Painted Ladies continue to make the city lovely. But for me the real gain is the invisible one– the millions of ways my daily life got better, from the kozmo delivery that brings you ice cream in the middle of a hard day to my husband, who I met on yahoo personals.