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Bubble boy. (Political Booknotes).

F'D COMPANIES: Spectacular Flameouts by Philip J. Kaplan Simon & Schuster, $18.00

PHILIP J. KAPLAN IS AN IDIOT. He says so himself, repeatedly, in his book F'd Companies: Spectacular Dot-Com Flameouts. "I'm an idiot dork," he blithely proclaims. When an author is so insistent about establishing his idiocy at the outset of his book, he is either being pathologically self-deprecating or painfully honest. Judging from the 191 odious pages that make up F'd Companies, Kaplan is simply telling it like it is.

In May 2000, Kaplan, a 25-year-old web designer, created a website called Fuckedcompany became the Nelson Muntz of the dot-com bust, pointing and laughing with malicious glee as company after company crashed and burned. Visitors to the site could make snide remarks about the dumbest dot-concepts, tell incredible stories about company waste, and lay odds on which dot-com would be the next to fail.

Within weeks of its launch, became one of the most popular sites on the Internet. "I had thousands of emails from dot-com employees informing me of the goings on in their companies," writes Kaplan. "I received email from laid-off dot-commers on the brink of depression, thanking me for the site, explaining that it was therapeutic to read and they knew they weren't alone and they weren't to blame."

Kaplan apparently managed to parlay his snarky website into a book deal, and F'd Companies is the snarky result. Basically an extended version of the site, F'd Companies is a compendium of New Economy stupidity, an incredulous chronicle of some of the biggest dot-com failures. Kaplan examines about 100 different companies, and, in a dashed-off paragraph or two each, explains how and why each met its doom.

Most of these companies deserved to die. The tech boom was largely defined by misguided priorities and bad ideas, and F'd Companies reminds us just how bad some of these ideas were. The book recalls such paragons of business-school profit models as, the company that thought it could make millions by being "THE Internet resource for people over 50," and, of course, the inimitable, which expected people to pay them real money in exchange for "Flooz," an alternative online currency with no intrinsic value that could only be used at participating Internet retailers.

These failed companies deserve Philip Kaplan. The dot-com bubble was in large part due to a bunch of callow young men with dollar signs for eyeballs, whose greed and naivete effectively created and destroyed an entire industry in the span of less than five years. Thus, it's altogether fitting that another callow young man is the one appointed to hold them in judgment and chronicle their downfall. So, in terms of cosmic justice, F'd Companies is kind of satisfying. But that is the only thing satisfying about it.

The book is written in "chatroom" style: sentence fragments, caps lock, and cuss words. Yet the result is far from "hip" and "edgy"--it's just incredibly annoying. Kaplan comes across as an obnoxious, illiterate nerd who, as he proudly notes, is "just making all this shit up anyway." Most of his insights are trite, obvious, and unfunny ("We all know that porn equals success." Yeah, har har, Phil.), and about the best thing that can be said for the book is that it's over quickly. It took me 45 minutes to read F'd Companies--probably about as long as it took Kaplan to write it.

This isn't to say that he doesn't get off some good lines. Making fun of dot-coms is like shooting fish in a barrel; even a confirmed idiot is bound to hit now and again. Writing about failed online car dealer, Kaplan neatly sums up their target demographic: "People born yesterday who were afraid to leave the house, yet still wanted a used car."

It's lines like that which make me think that somewhere, buried under all of the hypercapitalization and gratuitous masturbation references, Kaplan actually might have something interesting and worthwhile to say. But I suppose it's easier to be mindlessly cynical; easier still to put absolutely no effort into the writing of a book. F'd Company reads like it was written while Kaplan was otherwise occupied: talking on the telephone, perhaps, or counting the money from his book advance--which, judging from the self-satisfied grin he wears on the book jacket, was a substantial one indeed. Who says that nobody's making money off of dotcoms anymore?

JUSTIN PETERS is a Washington Monthly intern.
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Author:Peters, Justin
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2002
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