Web sky falls, then doesnt

Big Picture speakers do instant analysis of a wacky day on Wall Street

Everything about the Web moves at warp speed, including the Nasdaq dips and rebounds that largely define the economics of Internet companies.

So no sooner had a panel of Internet executives at last week's Big Picture conference in New York declared that the apparently horrendous downturn in Nasdaq stocks was to be expected then the market recovered. Following a 574-point free fall on Tuesday that would have been a record-setter, the market recovered, but still closed down nearly 75 points.

"I think the correction is acceptable. It's overdue," George Bell, Excite@ Home president and CEO said while the tailspin was still in progress.

"The money has basically rotated out of the stocks that are the hot Internet stocks," said Chris Kitze, vice chairman of NBCi. "As people rotate back into these stocks, they'll be much more selective."

Kevin O'Connor, CEO and co-founder of DoubleClick, the online advertising company, said he thought the apparent pressure drop would probably cool the IPO market for all of a month before investors would be ready to jump right back in. "I think we've seen all this before," he noted.

And indeed, that was so-all in the course of a single day, in this case.

"One thing investors are coming to understand is how much time they want to give these companies to be profitable," said Jeffrey Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, the online bookseller.

But the panel topic was the Internet's future, not its immediate financial present. And Tom Brokaw, veteran NBC News anchor and panel moderator, set a more global tone for the discussion-despite soliciting the comments on the seemingly murderous market. "There's never been anything like what we're living through in its ability to empower people around the world," Brokaw said of the Internet.

And the panelists pushed their own visions of the power the new medium presents, the mercurial character it embodies. "The speed at which it's happening is amazing," said Jay Walker, vice chairman and founder of Priceline.com. "One day there's a browser, and the next day there's 10 million browsers. One day there's a Napster, and the next day there's 10 million Napsters."

Napster is the latest technology under fire for enabling illicit downloads of digital music.

O'Connor suggested that the current level of e-commerce transactions on the Web belied the impact it was actually having on consumer behavior. He said that, while people don't buy cars online, they make their final choices there: "More and more people are using the Internet as their primary decision-making vehicle."

Bell sounded a surprisingly contrary note on the advancing convergence the Web is widely expected to inspire, saying that he isn't interested in a world where all activities take place on a single device. And he said that he doubts it will occur: "Television will continue to dominate the TV experience. The Internet will enhance an experience around it."