eBay's Whitman: Net has lots of fight left

The online auction giant's chief executive rings an optimistic note for the future of the Internet Economy, painting a silver lining to the gloom-and-doom news surrounding it.

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LOS ANGELES--eBay chief executive Meg Whitman on Wednesday rang an optimistic note for the future of the Internet Economy, painting a silver lining to the gloom-and-doom news of crumbling dot-coms and a troubled Nasdaq.

Her comments were the opener to the eighth annual Internet World Spring conference here at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where some 50,000 people have converged to take stock of the tech industry.

"The Internet is not dead," she said. "When I talk about the future of the Internet many people say, 'What future?' But I believe the Internet's best days are still ahead."

Whitman joined eBay almost three years ago, bringing with her a vast background in strategic marketing having served at big-name corporations such as Hasbro, Procter & Gamble and Walt Disney. As a company, eBay has managed to swim above the rising tide of Internet companies that have had to either shut down or slash staff to survive the dark financial times. Since it was founded in 1995, eBay has amassed a membership of roughly 22 million people and is holding onto a revenue goal of $2 billion by 2005.

Whitman draws her optimism from, among other things, a Morgan Stanley analysis that cites a steady increase in the number of people logging on to shop, do other business or seek entertainment. Still, she said, without a broader penetration of high-speed Internet access, growth will be limited.

eBay, an online auction site where consumers buy and sell anything from

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Internet best is yet to come
Meg Whitman, CEO, eBay
used cars to knitting needles, recently announced an alliance with Microsoft for the companies to support each other's technologies and expand their reach online.

eBay plans to support the software giant's .Net plan, while Microsoft will integrate eBay's proprietary online marketplace technology into a number of its properties such as Carpoint.com and WebTV.

In her speech, Whitman said there are many businesses that have enjoyed success, including e-commerce software maker Ariba and Napster--a free music file-swapping service that gained popularity and was forced by a federal judge to block copyrighted songs.

"Regardless of what happens to Napster, their model will still be around," Whitman said. "Ironically, it may reinvigorate the entertainment industry."

Yet for all her optimism, those attending the conference could not help but notice that many of the speakers appeared more nervous than confident about the state of the tech industry.

"There's a lot more pitching and less educating," said David Radin, host of Pittsburgh-based Insider Radio. "Everybody's talking about getting over the bump."

Don DiPietro, chief executive of VidConnect Media Exchange in Culver City, Calif., agreed, noting that some panelists seem to be representing companies whose financial situation is uncertain.

"They're in a state of jelly," he said. "They don't know if they're going to end up being liquid or solid."