This page presents some material about the Internet bubble collected in research on a book (still in preparation) which will compare that episode to the British Railway Mania of the 1840s and draw speculative conclusions about the future. It has the provisional title Beautiful illusions, credulous simplicity, and technology manias: From railroads to the Internet and beyond.
The most prominent place in any exhibit of Internet myths belongs without any question to the tales of astronomical growth rates of Internet traffic. These were powered by official claims from WorldCom and its ISP arm UUNet, primarily through public presentations by John Sidgmore and Mike O'Dell. Fortunately for many involved in the class action lawsuits after the collapse of the telecom bubble, as well as those curious about the history of that episode of irrational exuberance, a video of the O'Dell presentation at Stanford on May 16, 2000 was available for many years at a Stanford web site, as can be seen at the Internet Archive page, [Internet Archive copy from April 25, 2005, of the Stanford symposium page]. Unfortunately this video has vanished, in one of those famous cases of "bit-rot" that, contrary to popular lore about nothing ever vanishing from the Internet, is leading to the disappearance of much of our digital heritage. (The Internet Archive found its last link to the files from higher levels at the Stanford web server in April 2005. But the video was available through direct access to it at least through May 2007, and the symposium page until May 2010.) So we have to make do with a rough transcript of the O'Dell presentation:
The three key slides of the O'Dell lecture at Stanford, which purported to show the UUNet network around the middle of 1997, 1998, and 1999, were minor modifications of these three slides (which apparently were also used, again possibly in slightly modified formats, in all the Sidgmore talks, and many other WorldCom/UUNet presentations):
John Sidgmore was very widely cited on the topic of UUNet growth, but left few direct records of his presentations. Here is his paper from the Proceedings of the Vortex98 Conference, held May 19-22, 1998. Copy posted by permission of IDG.
On June 5, 2000, Leo Hindery, the CEO of Global Crossing, sent a memo to Gary Winnick, the Chairman of the Board, and other high-level executives, with speculation that their company, as well as some other pure fiber players. were "like the resplendently colored salmon going up river to spawn, at the end of our journey our niche too is going to die rather than live and prosper." This memo provides an interesting perspective on how some telecom insiders thought about the future of their industry, and is especially instructive when it is contrasted with public claims of the time.
The telecom bubble was inspired by claims of astronomical growth rates in Internet traffic. The presentation deck used by Tom Soja of T Soja & Associates at a meeting in Barcelona in April 1998 illustrates the state of knowledge at the time.