Of course the biggest change is in France. But, if the data in the next few months follow the same trend, we may be seeing the beginning of a reduction in the traditional gap between the two leading countries and the other large markets in Western Europe.
Now let's see the two usual graphs. The fist shows density.
Internet hosts per 1000 inhabitants
The picture is more or less the same as in past months, except for France now being ahead of Germany even if we don't consider the minitel.
The next graph, as usual, shows internet activity in relation to income (GNP).
Internet hosts in relation to income (GNP)
in 28 countries in the Europe-Mediterranean area
Spain and France are gaining ground. The United Kingdom, that has always been the strongest of the "large countries", is improving even further. Germany remains weak. At the low end of the scale, the difference now is smaller between Portugal, Greece and Italy.
Finally, let's look again at the map of Europe. The position of France is the only difference with what we saw a month earlier; but there are relevant changes compared to the maps that appeared on this site in August 1999 and October 1998.
Internet hosts per 1000 inhabitants
Analysis on statistics by RIPE (Réseauz IP Européens) "weighted" data up to November 1999
The average density in Europe (14.5 per tousand) is just above the area shown in light green;
the average in the European Union (22.6) is above the dark green area.
The picture continues to change. In the meantime, it's interesting to note that there are relevant similarities between this map and the list of "candidates" for the European Union. That's no coincidence. It makes sense to think that internet density is a relevant measurement of a country's economic, social and political development.
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3. Internet "users" in Italy
More detailed studies on internet "users" in Italy will be available in the next few months. In the meantime, here are a few observations from surveys in September-October.
There seems to be no change in the total number of people online compared to June-July. Also the general demographic patterns are basically the same as we reported in issue 37. That's no surprise. People have been on holiday and busy with back-to-work or back-to-school. It seems likely that there will shall see relevant growth when we have results for the last two months of the year.
Some interesting, and relatively new, indications come from recent research on attitudes and behaviors. The general impression is that users are much smarter than most service suppliers or e-business operators think. Here are a few highlights.
- "New" users include an increasing percentage of people that aren't really interested. They reluctantly adjust to the net being "forced" on them at their workplace, or they feel that they must "live up" to a widespread trend though they don't understand "what's in it for them". The ever-increasing availability of "free" internet connection contributes to the growth of this factor.
- Experienced people use the net selectively, tailor their behavior to their needs and don't want to waste time. Also new users that initially wander around out of curiosity get tired quite soon; after a while they either become selective or drop out. Aimless "navigating" is generally seen as "naive" and silly.
- Most people aren't interested in having their own website or "homepage". They either think it's useless or understand that it takes a lot of effort because it needs to be updated. In the younger segments there is a relatively larger number of people (individuals or groups of friends) who think it's fun to try.
- Experienced users understand quite well the function of FTP and the usefulness of downloading good software that is free or has a reasonable price.
- The use of search engines is quite frequent but generally aimed at very specific objectives. Most people understand that their effectiveness is limited and rely more on personal contacts or other sources of information to find what they want.
- People are not very happy with the quality of service offered and generally find most sites too cluttered and slow.
- Though the "scare" campaigns are not as frequent as they used to be, they have left a feeling of uneasiness. People (especially families with children and of course mostly people that have limited experience of the net) are still concerned about hackers, viruses, bugs, pornography, intruders etcetera. That is given by some people as a reason (or an excuse) for using the internet in the office but not at home.
- The perception of "portals" is confused and unfocused. Most people know the word but don't know what it means (and don't care). There is hardly any loyalty, except for specialized resources that are perceived as reliable on specific subjects (especially in professional areas).
- The concept of "community" is well understood by experienced users. New users are interested in the idea but don't understand well what it means.
- People are interested in the idea of "electronic commerce" but generally disappointed with what is offered. The perception is that there isn't much online that is really worth buying; while, at the same time, people are concerned that exaggerated "commercialization" of the net could get in the way of its value as a source of information.
These are only early impressions; further research will probably tell us more. But it's interesting to notice that the attitudes of people are based much more on their personal experience of the net than on the hype. "Customer empowerment" isn't just a theory in business books. It's actually happening.
4. What's wrong with the audiweb
For about a year in Italy there were proud announcements that advertisers online would have a wonderful tool for audience measurement, called the audiweb. Several big business and media associations joined in the effort; a number of quite serious and competent people worked on the project. The first results were supposed to be published in September, 1999. Nothing happened and no explanations were given.
"Technical problems", some say in a low, embarrassed voice. Maybe. But the truth is somewhere else. A few sites were actually audited, but obviously someone was unhappy with the results and refused to publish them. Some large organization refused to join the system; but they don't explain why. There is a pretty obvious explanation. Conflicts of interest, with each of the major operators wanting whatever system best suits his needs. They will probably try to reach a compromise and get the act on the road some time next year, but under these circumstances the reliability of the data will be quite questionable.
This, of course, isn't much of a problem. The internet (unlike broadcast media) can be used (and measured) quite effectively without any external standardized source. The real problem isn't that audiweb data are not available, but that companies were told to hold their investments until they had a proper measurement tool; and found it convenient to do so. Of course that makes no sense, but it was an excuse to "wait and see". Now there is a large and increasing number of potential customers online; and there are investors ready to pour large amounts of money into e-business stocks if and when they can find something that seems worthwhile. But there are very few companies in between with a really clear idea of what to do about it.