NEW YORK – If you were one of the two million Americans who were laid off last year, there's a place you can go to get help finding a new job, swap stories or just plain help pass the time.
It's the Internet.
The sites targeting this new demographic range from simple to elaborate. The site www.Ijustgotfired.com offers a free e-mail forwarding system. Meanwhile, www.oddtodd.com features a popular animated comic strip about an unemployed man who sleeps half the day, eats fudge cookies and surfs the Net.
Among the newest entries is www.laydoff.com, started by ex-Enron employee John Allario. The site hawks witty T-shirts about the demise of the energy company, but in general hopes to capitalize on the large number of people out of work.
"No one's taking advantage of this community across the country," Allario said in a telephone interview from Houston. "It's a transient community, but it's a community nonetheless."
And if he can't make a profit from the site, Allario said he hopes some employer out there will appreciate his industriousness.
"I also see it as a marketing tool for myself. If you think I'm clever and a go-getter, that's good for me."
While the number of potential clients is huge, most other sites for the unemployed are focusing on community rather than making money.
"Our site does not have a revenue model. Our customers are out of work," said Michael Feldman, 34, who co-founded www.recessioncamp.com last summer.
The San Francisco area-based site is a haven for people who don't want to sleep late and sit home watching daytime TV. Users organize and post information about free or at least cheap activities such as hikes, baseball games and happy hours.
"You'd be surprised how many people are out of the job and are pretty bummed out," Feldman said. "A lot of their social lives were defined by their work. Now they don't have that support system anymore."
The main point of recessioncamp.com, which likens itself to a summer camp for the unemployed, is to help people keep their spirits up during a tough time.
"We're a support group without being a support group," Feldman said. "We don't sit around on folding chairs and say, 'Hi, my name is Michael and I don't have a job.'"
But getting together and being outside helps people achieve some balance in their lives, he added.
On the more cynical side is www.NetSlaves.com. The site, which has been around since 1998, calls its followers "The Undertakers of the New Economy." It posts information on freelancing, consulting and jobs, and serves as a place for people to rant about their former bosses, or the difficulties of being unemployed.
Co-founders Bill Lessard and Steve Baldwin got into the technology business early, and also burned out early. "I had gone through seven jobs in seven years," Lessard said. "I was in the process of being downsized."
The friends started the site to help debunk the myth that everyone who worked in the technology sector was a 23-year-old millionaire. "We feel now like it's about getting beyond the stupidity and false expectations of what went on in the last five years," Lessard said.
The site's popularity has jumped in the last two months, rising from some 250 to 900 registered users, according to Lessard.
The proliferation of sites is actually breathing new life into the Internet, said Lessard. In the early days of the Web, wild personal sites popped up daily, only to be replaced later by more slick projects trying to turn a profit. But these new ventures for the unemployed are like the next generation of Internet rebels.
"It's like the new punk rock: something to say and a place to say it," Lessard said. "All the mid-level sites have gone away. Now you're either Time Warner or News Corp. or Disney, or you're a bathtub site like ours, and we're not beholden to anyone."
"I don't think what we're doing is a work of art. But for people who say, 'You've helped me,' it helps keep me going, it makes me feel good, really."