Online Overload

Someone somewhere will eventually figure out a way to handle these Internet overload problems. We just need to find out who that someone is and give him our business.
Author:
Publish date:

With any revolution, you are going to have some screw-ups. Frankly, this online revolution has been remarkably free of setbacks and chaos, and the fervor and overload of these last few days has to be expected, but certainly not condoned, while the equipment gets added, the lines get strung and the people get hired.

There is nothing more daunting than a broker who doesn't pick up his phone -- except a Web site that doesn't respond. I know for some it must feel like a real conspiracy out there with margin rules going up, popular Net stocks trading only on an agency basis, trading halts like that of

Broadcast.com

(BCST)

and now outages left and right.

As a full-blown revolutionary-- who else would have sunk the time and energy into an online publication as his

hobby

! -- all I can tell you, as I did to countless members who emailed me, is stay the course. Don't get discouraged -- these kinks will get fixed. There is too much money involved and too many peoples' jobs are on the line not to.

How do I know it is not a conspiracy by the old guard to knock off the newer online people? First of all, most of the old guard don't even have a clue about how a personal computer works. The old guard looks suspiciously to me like the Iceman, trying to jazz up the ice with some fancy colors, to go head to head against the Frigidaire. The old guard wouldn't know how to derail online trading if they made it their lives' mission.

Second, the old guard may have lost control of the underwritings, but for the most part the old guard likes to have more people in the game, as the old guard is really a method of distribution that wants, of course, more people to distribute to.

Third, I know a lot of the old guard, and they aren't as powerful as you think. The guys at the top of these firms see volume and want share; anybody who stands in the way of that gets axed.

No, the problems with online have to do with overload. You had to be a visionary of the most extraordinary proportions to see the grip that the stock market would have on ordinary people. (Just to give you a sense, in response to my piece about how part-timers can't pull themselves away from the excitement, I got about 250 emails from lawyers, doctors, military people, police, grandmas, systems engineers, CEOs, writers and even spies -- yes, undercover operatives -- complaining about how it has overtaken their lives just in the last two months. ) You had to be 10 years ahead of your time to predict that online trading would take off like this. You had to be downright reckless and mad for power to have ordered enough equipment to meet this demand. You had to be a megalomaniacal nut job!

Maybe, you think, that people should have had backup ready and waiting. Backup is hard to gauge. Should you lease 10 times the number of

Sun Micro

(SUNW) - Get Report

machines and five times the

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

equipment that you need in order to handle peak days

when you have no idea what peak is

? I don't think so. I know I wouldn't approve that level of spending if I were in those guys' shoes.

Let's analogize for a second to make the point clear: You are

Con Ed

(ED) - Get Report

. Suddenly, like in that

Twilight Zone

episode, the sun is getting closer and closer to the Earth. You think you've got the generating capacity to handle that air-conditioner overload? I don't think so. (That was one of those dream sequence

Serling's

, wasn't it?)

You would have blackouts, not just brown-outs. It would be a nightmare, a monopolistic nightmare that would make

Bill Gates

seem like

Dr. Schweitzer

or whoever else passes for the humanitarian now that my parents' generation would check off on.

Now here's where I am hopeful. Somewhere among these

Morgans

(JPM) - Get Report

and

E*Trades

(EGRP)

and

Waterhouses

-- and maybe even

Merrills

(MER)

for all I know -- there is someone saying right now, "If I can set up a foolproof quintuple redundancy, 24-7, super-de-dooper Web site with guarantees and backups galore, I am going to get 100% share of the fastest-growing market on earth."

That someone is going to be handed an unlimited budget to deliver because that someone is going to be a hero. We just have to figure out who that someone is and give him the business!

It's called capitalism, and it's something we are darn good at. My bet is with the revolutionaries; we will work this out. Someone will see what needs to be done. Let's just hope they do it soon. I can only handle so much email grumbling about brokers before my own eyes begin to glaze over.

Random musings:

Took me two hours to get to work today. We will not be playing fully staffed, Don't forget that at 2:00 p.m., when you are trying to do something and nobody is around.

James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At the time of publication, his fund was long Cisco, though positions may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column by sending a letter to TheStreet.com.