If you lived through the first dot com bubble, you probably remember the story of Zapata. This was the former fish-oil company that suddenly decided it wanted to become an internet powerhouse. It put out an unsolicited bid for Excite.com and later announced that it was willing to pay millions for totally random web-based startups to build into its own Zap.com portal. It was a laughingstock of the dot com bubble -- highlighting a non-internet company's rather hamfisted attempt to be thought of as an internet company. However, the news that United Online is buying flower company FTD
feels like a Zapata-like moment -- even if it's in reverse. United Online, of course, was formed from the merger
of NetZero and Juno, two dot com-era "free/cheap" dialup providers. A few years back, it also bought
also-ran quasi-social networking site Classmates.com, and more recently failed
to spin that off into an IPO. United Online also bought an online "loyalty" points provider, MyPoints, which again, seems rather unrelated to its other businesses.
While you can understand why the company would want to diversify from crappy dialup internet access and a failed social network that no one uses any more, it still seems weird for it to get into the flower business. Yes, it's true that FTD does a ton of business online, but it's difficult to see what sort of "expertise" United Online has to offer FTD. It's even more odd when you consider that things like Barry Diller's attempt to build a conglomerate of disparate internet properties is being broken up
, as he was unable to make whatever "synergies" appear. Maybe there's some explanation that makes sense for United Online, but it feels Zapata-like. It may not quite be fish-oil, but an internet company buying a flower company just doesn't seem right.