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The Seven Stages of Web Grief

The Seven Stages of Web Grief

In the 1970s, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross broke the taboo about speaking about death with her book On Death and Dying. The fact she went on to try to break the taboo about talking about "psychic" experiences involving angel guides without mentioning Haley Joel Osment does not diminish the service her book provided.

Kübler-Ross pointed to the five stages of grieving which have turned out to apply much broadly than simply to mourning someone who's died. For example, I recall ten years ago coming in the morning after a major layoff to find the five stages on the white board of one of the survivors, plus one more:

1. Denial2. Anger3. Bargaining4. Depression5. Acceptance6. Gloating

It turns out that the five stages also apply to the reaction of mostlarge companies to the presence of the Web.

First, the companies went into denial. "The Web is for geeks!," they said. "Joe Six-Pack and Suzie Homemaker won't be doing the double-you-double-you-double-you any time soon!"

Then, when it became clear that even the Clampetts had bought a modem and signed up for AOL, the companies got angry. "People are being fooled! The transactions aren't safe. And there's porn all over the place! What sort of place is this?!"

Next came bargaining. Companies approached design houses and said: "If we give you $250,000 to put our brochures up on the Web, then we'll be all right. OK? OK!"

Alas, depression set in. "No one ever comes to our site. They don't love us any more. And some punk outfit with a combined employee age of 46 just put a dot-com after their name and now is worth more than General Motors. It's just not worth carrying on." It was at this point that Prozac started showing up on the company first-aid shelf, right next to the aspirin packets and Heimlich maneuver poster.

Finally, acceptance. Companies recognized that the Web is challenging the fundamentals of the way they do business, exploding the old power relationships and transforming strategies right down to their details.

Just kidding! And the bad news is that acceptance is merely the starting point for a happy Web afterlife. If you can't get your company to that starting point real soon, it will skip directly to the sixth stage of grieving: being totally ignored.

David Weinberger is editor of The Journal of Hyperlinked Organizations

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