Death Pool

Pick the dot-com stiffs

Remember Nancy Kerrigan? For a few months after Tonya Harding's husband had her right knee tenderized, she was America's darling—Snow White to Harding's Evil Queen, Jerry to her Tom. Then people discovered that she was capable of making catty remarks (about the Disney Corp. and fellow figure skater Oksana Baiul), and the media fell upon her like a pack of dingoes.

Something much the same appears to be happening with the e-commerce revolution. For a while there, all you had to do was slap a dot-com on the end of your company name, and investors fell all over themselves in their haste to write you a check. But then the companies started failing and Wall Street got nervous, and now even venerable dot-coms like Amazon are feeling the pinch. The list of sites that have gone under is almost endless: boo.com, homewarehouse.com, etm.com, actionace.com, onestop.com, and so forth and so on.

But the news isn't all bad: the wash of biz failures has spawned a fabuloso website: FuckedCompany.com (www.fuckedcompany. com). FuckedCompany.com is modeled after online celebrity death pools, such as the venerable one at www.stiffs.com. In a celebrity death pool, you select a list of celebrities you predict will die in the coming year, and the person with the most correct guesses wins. At FuckedCompany.com, the contest works roughly the same way: you select a list of companies you predict will tank, scoring points for each correct guess.

"The lines are a little blurred when dealing with companies because there is rarely a clean-cut death," admits site founder Philip Kaplan. "To make up for this, FuckedCompany.com rates different levels of a company's demise and awards points based on the level of severity."

So, for example, a round of layoffs would be worth only a few points, whereas a complete meltdown, à la the recent demise of U.K. clothing retailer Boo.com, would receive the highest possible score—and is officially "fucked."

The concept is proving popular—after a little more than a month, FuckedCompany.com has attracted more than 20,000 players. Kaplan reset all the scores on July 1 so people could start playing for real, offering prizes for high scores (previously, all players got was the satisfaction of seeing their name at the top of the ranking list).

Along the way, entirely by accident, Kaplan's site has also become something like data central for bad e-commerce news. Kaplan posts about 20 to 30 reports of unfortunate dot-com happenings, ranging from layoffs to executives leaving to stock prices tanking, every day. But he says he doesn't want the site to become a genuine source of investment-advice-in-reverse.

"The one thing I don't want is for the site to become a self-fulfilling prophecy," the 24-year-old Web designer told Reuters. "But a lot of the people signing up are Internet professionals and industry executives who normally don't sign up for stupid games on the Internet. And not only is it a really hard-to-reach audience, but it's also the survey of a lifetime because I'm asking tens of thousands of Internet professionals, 'Who do you think is going to fail?'"

 
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