A million dollars here…

a million dollars there, pretty soon, it all adds up.

In 1997, Lisa Gansky (at GNN) and I (at Yoyodyne) put together the first million dollar giveaway on the Net. If I remember right, the hard work our teams put into it led to a annuity (probably still paying off) for a forklift operator who really needed the money.

That was eight years ago. It was a breakthrough gimmick because until then, the biggest prize ever given online was perhaps $50,000.

Over the last few weeks, the mail I have been getting the most often is about million dollar websites, RSS feeds and other advertising gimmicks that revolve around selling little bits of data to advertisers as a way of gaming the games of attention and search engines and traffic.

It seems like a million dollars is still a lot of money.

The problem with the Pet Rock is that you could only do it once. Sure, it sold a bazillion rocks, but what good did that do everyone else? It’s really easy to waste a lot of time chasing gimmicks, always arriving just a little too late to be the guy who breaks through.

The first million-dollar website, apparently, did awfully well. But who would be interested in the second one?

I think you can predict approximately where the next Purple Cow is going to be, but it’s more about trends (or anti-trends) than it is about topping that last guy’s gimmick.