Explaining Away the Latest Dotcom Bubble

| Sun Jul. 17, 2011 12:49 PM EDT

Here's the headline that greeted me when I opened my copy of the LA Times this morning:

Boom is back in Silicon Valley
Another tech bubble? Maybe. But some analysts say there are differences this time.

Everybody knows about the boom, so I didn't care much about that. What I did care about was learning what particular sophistry is making the rounds to explain why things are different this time. After trudging though a dozen paragraphs about Tesla roadsters, traffic jams on Highway 101, brisk business at Draeger's, Mark Zuckerberg's $7 million house, Apple's new spaceship-shaped campus, and six-figure offers to entry-level engineers, I found it:

Others dismiss talk of another technology bubble. They argue that more than 2 billion people are now plugged into the Internet through high-speed connections, creating vast opportunities for companies that are lining up millions of users and growing sales, even respectable profits. This boom, they say, is being driven not by greedy investors pumping up shares of dot-coms to irrational levels on public markets, but by private investors who are battling for stakes in hot start-ups like Facebook that could turn out to be the next Google...."These are all wealthy private individuals who understand the gambles they are making. It's not like in the dot-com days when grandma was placing bets on IPOs."

Uh huh. In other words, it's not 1999 yet, it's still 1997, back when private investors were battling for stakes in hot start-ups like GeoCities and theGlobe.com that could turn out to be the next Microsoft. Grandma came a couple of years later, during the Kozmo.com era, and she'll undoubtedly reappear shortly in some form that's just different enough from her 1999 guise to keep the illusion of differentness alive. Color me unimpressed.

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