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Jupiter slowly evaporates

The research firm is shrinking as NetRatings buys its AdRelevance unit for a bargain price and Gartner is rumored to be interested in another division.

    My 12-year-old son Vermel has an infuriating new hobby. He has installed a program on my computer that tracks everything I do and e-mails him the results once a day. He calls it research.

    He waved an envelope in his hand as he sat down to breakfast yesterday. "I noticed you visited scotch-related sites 341 times last week," he said. "That's valuable information in the right hands."

    I patted the seat next to me. "Vermel, my boy, you're behind the times. Nobody will pay you for that. Just ask Jupiter Media Metrix."

    The company, once a Web kingmaker from its perch in Silicon Alley, has been in trouble for much of the past year and is now being sold off piecemeal. Last week, rival NetRatings picked up the company's AdRelevance unit for $8.5 million--relative crumbs compared to the $71.2 million NetRatings had earlier agreed to pay in a previous aborted deal for the whole company.

    Skinformants now say that research stalwart Gartner and at least one other unnamed suitor may be interested in buying Jupiter's U.S. research unit. If Gartner were to take over Jupiter, deep cuts would result, Skinformants said. The two research firms already have considerable overlap.

    Sources said Jupiter's European research division is also attracting interest from some potential overseas bidders, but its once-powerful Web traffic measurement division is looking dangerously unmarriageable.

    A few calls to Gartner yielded little in the way of encouragement. The company does not comment on rumors or speculation, I was told. I dug a little deeper. There I found Gartner Skinsiders who told me that interest in buying Jupiter is low.

    A Jupiter representative did not return calls for comment. A representative for Forrester Research, another technology analyst firm viewed as a potential suitor, declined to comment.

    Jupiter's research business remains respected, although over-expansion has cut deeply into revenues. The traffic-measurement business has fallen on tough times, however, as companies realize that eyeballs have little to do with revenues.

    Jupiter and Media Metrix merged in 2000, linking two of the companies responsible for most of the numbers underlying the Internet bubble. Jupiter's reports on new Net businesses, predicting revenues of billions of dollars in just a few years, served as the core of funding pitches for start-ups cashing in on the bubble. Meanwhile, every big Web site did whatever it could--including entering into some financially disastrous mergers--to make the monthly Top 20 traffic list.

    My sources haven't given me any price tags--but they can't be high. Jupiter Media Metrix's stock was trading at about 14 cents a share, giving the entire company a market capitalization of about $5 million.

    Wanted: CEO who can tap dance
    Palm's hardware division is about halfway through a search for a new CEO, and they have at least one candidate who looks fabulous. The company's chief operating officer, Todd Bradley, has almost single-handedly pulled the company back onto its feet after a bad stumble last year and has boosted flagging morale.

    Problem is, this wunder-exec apparently has all the charismatic speaking power of Al Gore on depressants--and that may be hurting his chance at the top slot, Skinsiders say.

    I got a personal dose of his Nyquility at PalmSource in February. Let's just say the teleprompters evidenced more emotion than he did.

    A Palm representative said Bradley was fighting a bad cold that day. "He wasn't at his best," she pleaded on his behalf, adding that he's still in the running for the CEO slot.

    Tech leaders increasingly spend much of their day as high-paid representatives. Some examples: Larry Ellison (Oracle), Scott McNealy (Sun Microsystems), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Carly Fiorina (Hewlett-Packard) and Steve Jobs (Apple Computer). Gates has even gone so far as to pitch Windows XP during an episode of "Frasier," and Ellison has said that he spends 20 percent of his time on sales, not to mention frequent conference speeches.

    Late last month, interim CEO Eric Benhamou said that Palm was about three months through its six-month search. Maybe that will give Bradley enough time to brush up on his cheerleading skills.

    Web schmervices
    Bradley could no doubt take some lessons from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, whose fear of being boring is apparently second only to his fear of being seen wearing last year's designs.

    Ellison was asked recently about the hype surrounding Web services while entertaining an audience of loyalists at an annual customer conference in San Diego. "You can only understand Silicon Valley if you've been in the fashion industry," he quipped.

    "Pink is in."

    Ellison, known for flashing a bit of Prada or Kenneth Cole himself, evidently believes "pink"--aka Web services--is just another bloated trend that will sink under the weight of its own press clippings. Though he says it's a "very important new technology," he dismisses the latest hype on Highway 101 that would see every program and system in the world communicating: "It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my entire life."

    That may be news to Oracle developers. Ellison is still trying to sell such services as part of this season's software ensemble, according to the company's Web site.

    Rumors never go out of fashion. Send me yours.