For DotComGuy, life is really clicking

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January 23, 2000|By Eric Celeste | Eric Celeste,FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

There's no question you want to hate him. How could you not? You hear his story -- man gives up his techie job to live in a house for a year, legally changes his name to DotComGuy, never leaves the property, lives exclusively off the Internet -- and you think, "Hello, nerd."

Even when the details are explained -- he'll make almost a hundred grand from corporate sponsors, his every move will be Webcasted by 18 cameras -- you alter your opinion only slightly: "Hello, market-savvy nerd."

You decide the only course of action is an article that mercilessly mocks DotComGuy. Here goes:

"It's like Christmas every day around here," DotComGuy -- let's call him DCG, for short -- says as I walk into his north Dallas living room. (For security reasons, you must pledge not to give away its precise location.) Because he started with nothing but a laptop in his abode, he's had to order everything online, so all the stuff is new, from his couch to his shoes to his desktop computer system ($7,000-plus), which is easier to buy when you're spending against your sponsor-provided salary.

Or when you've got Melissa, an exec from Mall.com, sitting in your living room, helping you spend digital cash on even more goodies. She plays Net hostess, showing visitors what they look like on a Webcast, and pulls up the DCG chat room, where tens of thousands of "viewers" worldwide gather. The viewers can hear you, since anyone who enters the Dotcompound (aargh, the puns!) has a microphone attached.

We move to the patio. Leaves fall into the creek, a woodpecker taps an oak tree, DCG sips a glass of grapefruit juice. "I feel great," he says. "Last night was the first eight consecutive hours of sleep since I've been here."

He started Jan. 1, but sees little chance of going stir-crazy by December. "This is going to be a fun year," he says. If the media attention and occasional surprise-guest drop-bys (bands, comics, athletes) continue, you believe he's right. But having fun isn't what this was about, right? It's a ridiculous marketing gimmick.

DCG says he understands why people would think that this nonevent event was concocted by an evil marketing focus group, but says it started out simply as an argument with kin during the holidays.

"It was just a joke," he says. "I told my brothers that you can buy everything [you need] online. They didn't believe me."

He says he forgot the moment until 10 months later, when he went nuts after spending an entire day shopping. A week later, after communing with techie friends, he formulated plans, prepared news releases, targeted online sponsorships. The rest is not yet history.

In fact, DCG says that one of the benefits of his online house-sitting is that his community of "users and viewers" makes modern market testing seem silly. "You won't have to rely on research studies or focus groups [for your product] -- you get immediate feedback."

We take a tour inside, then end up downstairs, where Melissa has been chatting online with users/viewers. You get to join in, and you have to admit it's pretty neat having people from all over the world asking you questions.

After an hour, you leave DCG to his cyber-dungeon, feeling almost converted. You think, gosh, DCG's desire for this project to be community-oriented is actually kind of touching -- in an old-fashioned, late-20th-century sort of way.

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