From: Adam Rifkin (Adam@KnowNow.Com)
Date: Wed Sep 13 2000 - 04:34:19 PDT
With props to Simon St Laurent:
Says Rohit: "Roman candles may burnout in 28 seconds but the Roman legacy
has stood for 28 centuries..."
Will P2P companies thrive or die?
By Rachel Konrad
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
September 12, 2000, 11:05 a.m. PT
Call it the P2P quandary: Will companies specializing in peer-to-peer
e-commerce find a path to profitability, or will they and their investors
stagger down a path to privation?
Throughout the spring and summer, entrepreneurs and media pundits boasted
that the technology--which allows people to search for and retrieve files
from individual computers around the world--would transform the Internet
and become a lucrative investment niche. A June article in Fortune magazine
dubbed file sharing "the hot idea of the year," alerting investors to a
trend that would "revolutionize infotech and reinvigorate the PC industry."
Chipmaking giant Intel jumped on the bandwagon last month when it said the
new Pentium 4 will contain a new architecture called "NetBurst" designed to
handle taxing tasks required by P2P technology.
"Peer-to-peer has been around for a long time, but it is now being
recognized as the computing paradigm of the future," said Albert Yu, senior
vice president of the Intel Architecture Group.
But a series of copyright infringement lawsuits against high-profile
companies Napster and Scour have scared off venture capitalists and sapped
enthusiasm from the fledgling sector. Detractors argue that pure-play P2P
companies will never tap a significant revenue stream and that their
business models are fundamentally screwy: The essence of file sharing, they
argue, is contrary to file selling and profits.
Which camp is correct? Will P2P ignite a revolution or suffer the same
ignominious fate of its business-to-consumer and business-to-business
e-commerce brethren, whose stocks soared and then crashed when the hype
Executives at P2P companies are bullish on the technology, insisting that
they're on the cutting edge of what will drive the Internet in the future.
Because P2P technology is similar to the general architecture of the
Internet, boosters say, P2P companies will not suffer the same fate of
over-hyped B2C and B2B companies. In addition, P2P technology will likely
seep into B2C and B2B e-commerce, fueling demand for companies that can
provide P2P expertise and software to the uninitiated.
P2P executives are not alone in their enthusiasm: Marc Andreessen, chairman
of Web infrastructure provider Loudcloud, likened file-sharing technology
to the Netscape Mosaic browser that he helped create. The tool transformed
the academic Web into an easy-to-use and powerful tool for consumers.
Andreessen is an investor in and avid admirer of file-swapping software
such as Gnutella.
P2P goes B2B
Greg Richardson, chief executive of San Mateo, Calif.-based Quiq, said P2P
companies stand to reap a windfall as businesses increasingly transfer
purchasing and procurement online. His P2P software company, which caters
to technology and Fortune 1000 companies, announced last week that it had
raised $15 million in its second round of venture funding.
"While P2P is a hot word right now, it's only the tip of the iceberg of how
this is going to become valuable," Richardson said. "That phrase implies
talking to only one person, rather than tapping into the collective
knowledge of this industry."
Quiq allows companies and suppliers to communicate in virtual communities.
Its software powers a portion of Web portal Ask Jeeves in which people
answer other people's questions directly, without bogging down Ask Jeeves'
Quiq is one of many self-described P2P companies that actually work on the
fringes of the somewhat out-of-favor B2B niche. Such companies allow groups
of like-minded businesspeople to communicate in a closed circle of peers
and participate in parts auctions, confirm quotes or send downloadable
For example, Provo, Utah-based NextPage enables file servers to talk to
others within multinational corporations or industries. NextPage CEO Brad
Pelo said international law firms and other businesses that need quick
access to intellectual property are the company's prime targets.
"The technology is similar to Napster, except that within the enterprise
you can have file servers talking to each other," Pelo said. "Think of a
large law firm: It now has the ability from anyone's computer in the firm
to access the content of dozens of offices around the world. Content no
longer has to be centralized."
NextPage revenue comes from licensing fees for P2P-enabled servers that
companies use, as well as from annual maintenance and support fees. The
same technology could be used to speed paperwork and research during
mergers and acquisitions, Pelo theorized.
Ahead of their time?
But not everyone is convinced that P2P will translate into returns on
investment. Although businesses will certainly benefit from file-sharing
technology in private networks, many experts are skeptical of pure-play P2P
companies. They characterize Napster and Scour as companies on the
"bleeding edge"--pioneers in the experimental niche whose business models
may be ahead of their time.
Despite its phenomenal popularity, Napster and Napster-like companies will
likely fail, said Steven Hoffman, senior vice president for business
management at financial services hub Home Account--and not only because of
their increasing legal burdens.
Pure P2P companies are adept at exploiting the power of file sharing,
Hoffman said, but they offer no valuable services for which people are
willing to pay.
"The good part about Napster and the Net in general is that there's a
pluralistic, information-sets-you-free notion," Hoffman said. "The bad part
is there's no way they can be compensated in the existing Napster model.
Somebody, somewhere, has to put out money for something, otherwise there is
no business model."
Napster could make money if it becomes a giant advertising and marketing
vehicle for banner ads, Hoffman speculated. But that's a risky strategy
that hasn't worked well for many content companies.
"iVillage didn't have the marketing or ad capabilities to keep the company
going," Hoffman said. "One example does not make for a thesis, but there
are certainly others. When you look at it in aggregate, the amount of money
spent on ads is not terribly important...Marketing per se is insufficient
to sustain a business model."
Others say that P2P companies can easily tweak their business models to
offer valuable services, such as indexing and data crunching. For example,
Napster could crunch numbers on the listening habits of its users, then
sell it to record store franchises, music publications or others willing to
pay for the data.
"Information doesn't want to be free," said Jonathan Hare, president and
CEO of Berkeley, Calif.-based Consilient, an Internet infrastructure
company. "Information wants to be freely accessible, but information itself
isn't enough to do a transaction. You have to create usable data."
Profiting on computing cycles
Several experts said P2P technology can be vastly profitable if applied to
the increasingly popular idea of shared computing cycles.
Roughly 90 percent of America's computer capacity is idle at some point
during the day, especially when people turn off the machine and go home for
the evening, said Danny Menasce, professor of computer science at George
Mason University in Fairfax, Va. P2P technology could allow companies to
tap into others' computing resources, provided people leave their computers
Companies that provide the software to enable this could make money on the
software itself and possibly charge people to "rent" the computing capacity
of others. Several universities are experimenting with this technology,
including the University of Wisconsin at Madison's Condor project, which
allows physicists to run high-energy physics simulations on computers
located throughout the campus.
"If people were able to share cycles and bid in auctions for these cycles,
that could be very profitable," Menasce said. "Many companies could then
defer buying large supercomputers or mainframes if they could buy computing
cycles on the Internet."
Despite the potential for profits, P2P companies are likely to suffer a
cruel fate, said Philip Ferneau, professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of
Business and program director for the Foster Center for Private Equity.
Many will get bought by larger companies that want to incorporate P2P
technology in their e-commerce efforts, while others will wither as
corporations usurp the technology.
The only investors in P2P should be those who can afford to defer profits,
"This is one of those option plays," Ferneau said. "You see a big, emerging
technology and a conversion of trends, and you know you've got to be in
there if you're going to profit from the next generation. It's obviously a
vital technology, but it's a long way from a payoff."
CrossGain’s offering is still in the vapor stage — or, in Nielsen’s words, “in the petri dish.” In other words, the company will have nothing to show until later this year. But Benchmark general partner Bill Gurley said despite the early stage, he is confident that the CrossGain team will be successful. “CrossGain’s core team not only created a number of key Microsoft technologies over the years, but they also shipped products that brought Microsoft over $6 billion in revenue,” said Gurley. “Benchmark chose to invest because we believe this talented team has a first-mover advantage and they understand what it takes to create world-class products and services.” -- http://www.msnbc.com/news/457158.asp
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