F***edCompany.com, which launched as a rumor site reporting whispers of high-tech business layoffs and closures, is transforming itself into a seller of e-commerce tools--a direction its founder cheerfully acknowledges flies in the face of the site's doom-and-gloom origins.
"If you want to make money on the Internet, I'm saying you can use these tools," said Phil Kaplan, founder of PK Interactive, a Web design agency in New York City. "You don't need to spend millions to build an e-commerce site."
Kaplan has long predicted that his own site would succumb to the forces of gravity as more of the companies it covered went out of business. In preparation for a bear market for bad news, he expanded coverage to include the communications, biotech and entertainment industries, and launched a site for more cheerful tidings, called LuckedCompany.com.
But his own predictions of the original site's demise have turned out to be exaggerated. Kaplan says that even at this late hour in the dot-com implosion, both traffic and subscriptions to the deadpool are still rising.
Nevertheless, Kaplan's building spree continues.
In addition to LuckedCompany, Kaplan recently launched AmazonScan.com, a site for comparing sales rates of items sold on e-commerce Web site Amazon.com; HTTP Ads, an automated, subscription-based service for selling banner advertisements on a Web site; and Postget.com, a community site for personals, help wanted and other classified ads.
More sites are in the works, Kaplan said.
Tools of his trade
Each of Kaplan's new sites arose from a tool he built for his own use. In the case of AmazonScan.com, Kaplan set out originally to build a tool that could let him know how his own book, soon to be by Simon & Schuster and currently available for advance-order on Amazon.com, was selling.
The result was a tool that automatically pulls information from Amazon's own published sales ranking and compares them hour to hour.
The site now provides sales comparisons over time and shows the fastest growing and shrinking sales. At the time of this writing, for example, the VHS tape of the movie "Beat Street" was the fastest-rising seller, up 550 percent hour over hour, while sales of "The Jew in the Modern World : A Documentary History" were plummeting, down 77 percent.
Such a blow-by-blow chronicle of sales activity may seem like too much information for the average shopper, but for publishing and sales industry insiders, Kaplan's site has proved a popular destination, providing free of charge the kind of analysis BookScan and SoundScan sell to book industry and record industry professionals.
"As a publisher, the site is an incredible and invaluable tool for us to track book sales over time, particularly when an author appears in the media," said Andrew Feldman, marketing manager at Bloomberg Press.
For example, Feldman said he used the site to track sales of the publisher's new book, "Get in the Game! The Girls' Guide to Money and Investing," after it appeared on the CBS Early Show in December. "We got to track hour by hour...the rise in sales. The book was at (a ranking of) 3115 before the show, and by the end of the day it hit 61."
AmazonScan is free for users for the time being; Kaplan is considering charging for extra analysis features. But even while he doesn't charge, he's making money through Amazon's associates program, which rewards Web sites that refer traffic to Amazon.
Since launching in December, AmazonScan has generated about $70,000 in sales for Amazon.com, according to Kaplan, who said he pockets between 5 percent and 15 percent of those receipts.
"We're totally fine with it; it's an imaginative way of showcasing what we sell at Amazon," said Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith, who added that she could not vouch for the validity of the information.
Postget, which offers the same kind of community trading and marketplace services as San Francisco-based Craig's List, is running free of banner ads or any revenue scheme.
"It's nonprofit, purely just to help people," Kaplan said. "It's just a way to give back."
Taking on giants
The site HTTP ads, by contrast, is a money-making scheme that Kaplan wants to use to challenge Internet ad-sales networks such as L90 and DoubleClick.
"I used L90, and tried to use DoubleClick, but then I built an ad server that does one very important thing that these others don't do," said Kaplan.
That one thing is automation. For someone who wants to buy an ad on a site that uses HTTP ads, the purchasing process involves selecting the number of ads, choosing their duration, and approving a final price. The Webmaster approves or rejects the submitted ad, and payment is automated.
"I did that initially to sell ads, and the way people are with credit cards online, people are really impulsive. And the money goes straight into my bank account," Kaplan said.
The benefit of HTTP ads, Kaplan said, is that it lets people sell small quantities of ads that bigger networks such as L90 or DoubleClick would not bother selling.
DoubleClick said that this was true, but the company added that there's no substitute for the human touch.
"Media representation for Web sites is not a commodity," a DoubleClick representative said. "It is highly customizable by understanding the client's marketing objectives and tailoring an integrated specialized package to meet their needs. This can not be done in an automated fashion."
Other F***edCompany projects are in the works, including a site that automates the way e-commerce sites charge for access.
Kaplan said his software can set up a Web site with a credit card billing feature in 15 minutes. Although he acknowledged that other ASPs (application service providers) can accomplish the same task, he said his service will be different.
"In the end, what I'm doing is making tools for Webmasters, tools that I wish I'd had when I was building FC, but I had to build from scratch," Kaplan said.
News.com's Stefanie Olsen contributed to this report.