1. An InterActiveCorp by Any Other Name Would Smell Sweeter

Last week, you may recall, we at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab confidently asserted that one of you dear readers could come up with a better name than the one Barry Diller selected for the company formerly known as USA Interactive.

We were right.

Yes, we have a winner for the research lab's first-ever contest, a competition in which readers proposed alternatives to InterActiveCorp ( IACI), the bland-yet-sinister name, announced a week ago, for the company that owns the travel site Expedia ( EXPE), the dating service match.com and other e-commerce operations.

It was a difficult decision. To decide the winning entry, we judges labored through a grueling five-minute debate. But before we name the champion, we'd like to take a quick tour of the also-rans.

Surprisingly, the research lab doesn't appear to be the first organization to conduct a Rename USA Interactive contest. In emails to the lab, two different USA Interactive employees hinted that the company itself conducted an in-house naming contest before settling on InterActiveCorp. Those employees, in fact, emailed us lists of names that they had submitted for the in-house contest, but which had failed to catch the fancy of CEO Diller.

In the interest of preserving these employees' privacy (and jobs), we won't print these folks' names or their entries. But none of their suggestions, we dare say, persuades us that the Powers That Be over at InterActiveCorp perpetrated an injustice by overlooking a rightful candidate for the company's name.

The Name Game
InterActiveCorp won, but who lost?

In fact, our favorite entry from an InterActiveCorp employee was one we doubt was submitted to the official contest: Uncle Barry's House of Pain. To us at the lab, few things are as funny as the gallows humor of a disgruntled current employee.

Here are some other runners-up, along with the research lab's reactions:

  • BubbleSurvivor Corp. (submitted by Harry Ward) -- Brutally honest. Plus, as Ward points out, the likely ticker symbol BSCO looks like an abbreviation for "B.S. Corp."
  • Consumer Commerce Corp. (submitted by "Mrs. Robinson") -- As descriptive as InterActiveCorp, but catchier.
  • AsiaticVenture (John W. Peterson) -- Pro: an anagram of "USA Interactive." Con: Makes no sense.
  • sendbarrydilleryourdisposableincomeintheformofservicecharges.com (anonymous) -- To the point. Plus, we're pretty sure the domain name is available.
  • DynaUltraMegaBiz (Lawrence W. Parece) -- The best of several entries aiming to one-up InterActiveCorp in the bland-yet-sinister department. Ticker symbol: DUMB.
  • But those, we remind you, are the runners-up. The winner of the Rename USA Interactive contest is...

    Phyllis. Yes, Phyllis. It's simple. It's friendly. It hints at humanity behind the technology; it sounds like a place where warm, friendly and sympathetic people work. In other words, Phyllis is everything that InterActiveCorp is not.

    Plus, Phyllis could be a source of endless amusement, suggests contest-winner Robert A. Keleher (recipient of the coveted TheStreet.com hat in our lower right-hand desk drawer). For years, we could be reading sentences like this one in ostensibly serious business news stories: "'We have high hopes for online dating in European markets,' says Phyllis' Diller."

    Like the namesake Phyllis Diller, that's a joke that, though corny, will never grow stale.

    2. The Man in the Freddie Mac Said You Got to Go Back

    We weren't surprised when mortgage monster Freddie Mac ( FRE) acknowledged Wednesday that it had manipulated its earnings with accounting tricks.

    And why weren't we surprised? Because everyone is doing it, that's why.

    Restatement 101
    Freddie's 'conservative' accounting class

    See, when we read in Wednesday's announcement that Freddie Mac, in known departures from generally accepted accounting principles, had used adjustments in reserve accounts and elsewhere to smooth out earnings, we had a feeling of deja vu.

    Freddie Mac's admission reminded us that we'd read about the same scheme only two weeks ago, when we plowed through the 340-page report of the special investigative committee of WorldCom's board of directors. WorldCom, you're probably not shocked to learn, did the same stuff, too.

    But here's the funny part. It wasn't just executives at WorldCom who fiddled with reserve accounts -- money set aside for obligations incurred but yet not paid. Heck, after all you've read about ex-CEO Bernie Ebbers and crew, you'd expect that.

    No, the big surprise is that some of the good folks at the former MCI -- people usually portrayed as the victims of nefarious WorldCom managers -- used reserve accounts to smooth out earnings, according to the special committee. And this was true well before WorldCom took over their company. As the investigative report notes on page 80, WorldCom's Domestic Telco Accounting Group comprised legacy MCI employees who continued a certain practice from MCI prior to its acquisition by WorldCom.

    And that practice, says the investigative committee, was not to release excess accruals immediately upon identifying them, as per GAAP, but to manage the reserve release over time to smooth out results. "They viewed their approach as 'conservative,'" says the report.

    Now you know what 'conservative' accounting is: cooking the books in a responsible manner.

    3. Pretty in Blink

    Back when some of us worked at a daily newspaper, we used to define a "trend story" as "something your editor notices on his way into the office and tells you to write about."

    Times have changed. Now that we run the lab, a trend piece is what we see on our way into the office. It's totally different.

    Anyway, that brings us to the ads we've been seeing around Manhattan for the station 102.7-FM, part of the Viacom-owned ( VIAB) Infinity radio chain. Back in April, the station -- the onetime classic rock outlet WNEW -- relaunched as "102.7 Blink," focusing on music, gossip and entertainment.

    Gossip Rock
    The new Blink 102.7-FM

    All well and good, except for the ads. These pink behemoths, on buses and bus shelters throughout the city, are all variations on generic, happytalk entertainment news items -- undercut by more lightly printed catty remarks that imply insider knowledge of what's really going on.

    "The rapper was caught in a heated gun battle..." is what we remember one ad proclaiming. "...Arranged by his publicist," is the punch line.

    "The band's 15-city tour was a great success," is our paraphrase of another ad. "Only 12 groupies got pregnant."


    Live From Hollywood
    Your source for scoop-of-the-year stories

    Oh, come on. As if a radio station is actually going to become your source for libel-suit-attracting, scoop-of-the-year stories like that. Talk about overpromising and underdelivering.

    An Infinity spokesman says Blink's audience share, including that of its key age 25-54 demographic, has zoomed since the format change. Plus, the station "enjoys content partnerships with Viacom siblings like Entertainment Tonight, MTV and CBS, as well as outside partners like Us Weekly and E!, giving us a wealth of celebrity news, information and gossip to share each day with our listeners," says the spokesman in a statement. "These kinds of relationships give 102.7 Blink an edge."

    We're not so sure. When we think about content partnerships that give a news outlet an edge, Entertainment Tonight doesn't quite do it for us. We were hoping more along the lines of Woodward and Bernstein. Or even Hannity & Colmes.

    4. A Little Too Close to Excite@Home

    No good deed goes unpunished, as we like to say. And that includes IBM's ( IBM) laudable attempt to encourage middle school-age girls' interest in mathematics and technology, and to give them a taste of technology-related career opportunities.

    See, since 1999 IBM has been doing just that thing by sponsoring a series of weeklong girls' camps around the world called "Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering," or EXITE.

    Which is great. Or so we thought, until we read in the San Jose Mercury News this week about one such camp in San Jose, Calif. It sounded kind of cool, what with these girls learning about problem-solving and engineering by building towers out of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti. We had some qualms about the name of the camp -- we wonder whether a generation of tech-savvy girls will misspell "excite" on college applications -- but we were won over.


    Then something occurred to us: San Jose ... isn't that about 20 miles from Redwood City? And wasn't that the former site of Excite@Home, the now-bankrupt technology company formed by the merger of the tech company Excite and the tech company @Home?

    Hidden in there is a vital lesson for girls about a career in technology: It can be fun, but sometimes your employer makes marshmallows and spaghetti look like a model of stability.

    5. There's a Chapman in the Bathtub With the Blues

    The Chapman Chronicles

    On Thursday, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud charges against Nathan A. Chapman Jr., and three companies he controlled in late 1999 and 2000: eChapman, Inc. (formerly eChapman.com), The Chapman Company and Chapman Capital Management.

    Which inspires the research lab to offer some guidance on how to elude charges of securities fraud: Try not to name every single potential corporate defendant after yourself. It makes it a little easier for people to find you.

    Nathan A. Chapman Jr. wasn't immediately available to comment on the wisdom of our advice.


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