NOT since the days of Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox's lastminute.com has the City seen anything quite like it. Simon Nixon, a university drop-out and former magazine publisher, is on the cusp of joining a new club of super-wealthy internet entrepreneurs. The founder of Moneysupermarket.com will see his bank balance bulge with £100m as his price comparison group hits the stock market with a valuation of £843m.
This week's share issue will also see every member of staff receiving free shares worth a minimum of 3,000, and turn a number of top managers into millionaires.
When the dotcom bubble burst at the end of 2000, signalling the end of a five-year boom, few would have believed that seven years later investors would be salivating at the prospect of a near-1bn internet flotation. Across the Atlantic it is a similar story. In the last two years the States has seen big ticket dotcom deals such as YouTube's 820m takeover by Google and Rupert Murdoch's 294m buyout of MySpace.
Just last week internet retailer Amazon beat Wall Street expectations for the second consecutive quarter sending its shares to a seven-year high. In Silicon Valley once again a new generation of savvy young entrepreneurs are dazzling the market with a number of dotcom startups. These are mainly consumer-oriented social networking sites such as Facebook, which allow users to share pictures, videos and other messages online.
In a tale eerily familiar to the late Nineties, it was reported that Facebook's 23-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg rejected a 3bn offer from Microsoft as it didn't match his own 5bn valuation. Analysts are now openly talking about a second internet gold rush. But the question remains what is different this time around and will bust follow boom?
"What we now have is a strange mix of the survivors of the last boom and a new generation of entrepreneurs," says one analyst. "But the main difference is that the revolution which was started and then faltered is now fully under way and is an integrated part of the modern lifestyle."
In other words today's internet makes money. The success of companies such as Egg banking, easyJet, 'Sainsburys' to you' and Amazon, fuelled by the widespread growth in broadband, have proved that the internet is big business. According to a report by research group Verdict, e-tailing is growing 13 times faster than the traditional retail sector. Online spend across all retail in the UK grew by 33.4% last year to a record 10.9bn. The growth is attributed to cheaper broadband internet costs, as well as the success of existing high street retailers such as Oasis and Arcadia who have introduced web offerings.
Growth is also driven by the big supermarkets and foodstores such as Asda, Marks & Spencer and Tesco also scaling up their existing offers. The report says UK online sales will surge to 28.1bn by 2011 - equivalent to 8.9% of all retail spending.
James Roper, chief executive of Interactive Media in Retail Group, says in the late 1990s venture capitalists were throwing money at ideas and potential. Now people are already comfortable with buying things on the internet. And we are just scratching the surface. Roper points to a world where we will use the internet to buy houses and cars.
"The early growth [in online retailing] was in things like travel, books and CDs," he says. "Those have pretty much maxed out. A lot of the big growth now is in a lot of the areas that weren't immediately available - things like clothing and financial services. In five years' time, real estate will nearly all be transacted online."
Away from the larger, established players the second fundamental difference between now and 10 years ago is the start cost attributed to dotcoms.
Phil Huber, chief executive of XCalibre communications, which specialises in webhosting for the SME market, says the enormity of the online community means the potential is vast.
"In the previous dotcom boom money was thrown around like confetti," he says. "There were big venture capitalist deals and the result was that they [the newly-formed companies] were just burning money and nobody could really tell whether they were going to work.
"The difference this time around is that there is no requirement anymore for huge sums of capital, dotcom companies can start from scratch. Through viral marketing and the internet community it is quite possible to build an application that will go from 600 users to 600,000 within six months."
It is a view echoed by John Chambers, chairman and chief executive of Cisco Systems. Earlier this month the world's largest maker of data networking systems said the world was on the cusp of mastering a new phase of productivity growth.
"We are at the very beginning of the next phase of creativity that will last, I think, a minimum of 10 years, probably 15 years," he said. "But it will have more impact because the power of [connecting] many to many allows you to do things at a dramatically different speed."
Chambers' views carry clout. Such is the popularity of Facebook this summer that Zuckerberg is being heralded as a new Steve Jobs. Its value is based on the knowledge it gives advertisers to better understand its target consumers. In a note to Wall Street investors earlier this year Richard Greenfield, media analyst with Pali Capital, said: "We believe social networking has the power to enable content creators to better understand their target consumers and create content that has a greater likelihood of success.
"Assuming Facebook's growth trajectory continues as we expect, the knowledge that could be harvested from controlling the Facebook platform would appear to be the most valuable data in the history of the media world."
The potential of the social networking phenomenon is only just being realised. In the UK there are still huge swathes of the population that have yet to discover the benefits. In the US it is not just schoolchildren and students that use social networks, pensioners and middle-aged people, especially in rural communities, use them to manage their social lives.
As one analyst said: "Vertical enterprises such as banks, airlines and car brands have either not woken up to the potential of social networking or they are dipping their toe in it very gently. When they do, the growth will be explosive and the only thing that will stop it will be the internet failing. If that happens it will be like the lights going off in New York."