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Marketing in the internet – as seen from Italy

No. 46 – June 25, 2000



loghino.gif (1071 byte) 1. Editorial: The “new” picture of Dorian Gray

Things I am reading about the new economy bring to my mind the picture of Dorian Gray. In a sort of nightmare where it’s shifting from young to old and back in a confused pattern. It’s hard to tell which way it’ going – and, whatever it is, the picture has little to do with real life.

The fact is that many things called “new” are old, or grow from old and withered roots, or are subject to sudden deterioration. Is there anything new, for instance, in multiplying mergers and acquisitions? That’s an old movie and many of the “happy endings” don’t hold up over time.

It there anything new in the effort to cover as vast a territory as possible, as fast as possible, no matter how and why? In restructuring for short-term profit, or making deals in which the actual value or competence of a company is irrelevant? We’ve seen it all before. Historians of the economy can point to many such cycles in the past, and show how they caused more problems than they solved. But the rat race is too fast for anyone to bother about what could be learnt from history.

A lot of money (often phony, but sometimes real) will change hands before the dust settles. Most of what is called “new” is terribly old, and not very healthy. But while the wheeling and dealing goes on in the hazy dreamworld of the old canvas, some new and young things are growing, or are still on the drawing board. The new economy isn’t a dream. But too much of the attention is concentrated on techno-makeup, on old decaying ideas and business practices disguised as “new”.

Unfortunately many potentially good ideas and businesses get bought out, or warped by the greed for short-term gain, before they can develop the roots for healthy growth. The biggest enemy of the real new economy is the overwhelming wave of fake innovation that isn’t only hollow but also very dangerous. Because it swallows money, resources and talent, removing them from where they should be: making the real new economy grow.

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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 2. Net haters and net lovers

There are two people in my country that are very different but have one thing in common: they talk a lot about the internet and they don’t know what it is. One hates it, the other loves, it, and neither knows why.

One is a famous journalist. His name is Giorgio Bocca. I’ve never met him, but I’ve been reading his articles for many years and I think I understand his attitude. He is very aggressive, and often quite right, in complaining about the way things are being run – in politics, society and business. But now he has chosen the internet as the devil: the cause of all evils. It’s quite obvious from his writing that he has no experience of the net and no idea of how it works. He hates something that exists only in his imagination, or in the hype-and-horror reports he reads in newspapers. That is warping his mind, so he fails to understand where the problems are and the quality of his thinking is suffering. Many of his colleagues, famous or not, have the same problem.

At the other extreme there’s a chap that isn’t famous at all. He is a shopkeeper. His business is small but good, he is making a comfortable living. But he isn’t happy. For years he has been dreaming of schemes that can make him very rich, quickly and easily. None of them ever worked and he is quite frustrated. I am not going to his shop as often as I used to, because every time he sees me he has some “great idea” about how to get instantly rich with the internet; and he gets quite nervous because I don’t appreciate his genius and I don’t spend time and money helping him to develop his wonderful ideas. Like his famous counterpart, he has no idea of what the net is of how it works. But it has become his dreaming machine.

These are examples of two widespread attitudes. Lots of people fall, to some degree, into one or the other category. They feel uncomfortable about the internet, or they expect miracles. It’s not unusual to find people that have a mixture of both attitudes. Many of them write books and articles, talk on television, teach – or do business on the net. And so they spread the disease. We may be in the infancy or the adolescence of net culture, but it’s hard to guess how long it will take to get out of this phase.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 3. Backward technology

If culture and business are confused about which steps are ahead and which are backwards, so is technology. Almost every day we hear about “innovations” that make things worse.

One of many examples... it’s just been announced, as a great new invention, that systems can trace a person online and send an instant message. Of course that isn’t new. There have been such devices for a long time. It could be done on BBSs ten years ago. And we’ve always had the problem of being interrupted by a phone call (that’s becoming obsessive with mobile phones).

For many years there have been people who have set their computers to alert them immediately of incoming message. I think it’s masochism.

One of the great advantages of e-mail is that it isn’t “instant”. We can read when we choose, write when we have the time. The last thing we need is an “improvement” that makes it as intrusive as the telephone – or visitors knocking on our door at the wrong time.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 4. New data, no major changes

It will take another while before new relevant statistics are published in this newsletter. Not because of a lack of data, but because there don’t seem to be any relevant changes. The broad picture is more or less the same that we saw months ago (see issues 37 and 43 of Netmarketing and a report at the CFP2000 convention in April).

As usual, there are conflicting reports about the number of internet “users” in Italy (as everywhere else). Some sources say five million, some say ten. One thing is clear: there are many more than in past years. Short-term variations can be uncertain, the long-term growth trend is quite solid.

International comparisons (based, as usual, on hostcount statistics) don’t show any major changes. There are some temporary weaknesses in some data (that seems to be happening more often than in past years) and there is a change of speed in some countries, but no big changes in the overall picture. Here are updates of two of our usual graphs.

Internet hosts per 1000 inhabitants
in the Europe-Mediterranean area

28 countries (of 90 in the RIPE area) with over 20,000 hosts

Density in the Netherlands continues to grow and has reached “Scandinavian” levels. France is consolidating its presence in the internet. Statistics for the UK aren’t properly updated; real density is likely to be higher than shown here. The figures for Italy and Spain are probably underestimated, because of some hiccups in the hostcount; but southern Europe remains relatively weak.

Internet hosts in relation to income (GNP)
in the Europe-Mediterranean area

28 countries (of 90 in the RIPE area) with over 20,000 hosts

No major changes so far. New worldwide statistics are due in August and European data may show some evolution in coming months.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 4. Information Ecologies
(Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O’Day)

Information Ecologies – Using Technology with Heart by Bonnie A. Nardi and Vicki L. O’Day was published by MIT Press in 1999. Unfortunately this book isn’t much fun to read. In spite of some literary ambitions, and some good quotations, the style is less inspiring than the concepts. But it’s interesting. It’s another sign of a strong and growing culture that recognizes human values in the use of information technology and understands the ecological and biological nature of the internet.


There is an interesting analysis of the need for “gardeners” who know how to blend different sorts of experience and competence in effective working groups. “Resistance – say Nardi and O’Day – is sometimes part of the strategy, buy we believe it is a flawed approach if used by itself, because it disempowers. Using technology according to thoughtful values seems to us to be the most viable approach for the world we live in.” What’s needed is co-evolution of human needs and technology. To develop, choose and implement the best solutions to fit our inclinations and desires. They must be evaluated, before they are applied, “from the different perspectives of many people throughout the ecology, not just a few people who play the most visible and important roles.” “Diverse participants in an information ecology can improve a new technological design before it moves into active use.” The authors remind us that “the habitation of a technology is its location within a network of relationships.”

This book is a compilation of several studies and experiments, carried out in a variety of situations, environments and circumstances. Results converge in a definition of the internet as a living organism and a texture of human relations. “A vast playing field for diversity” that “bypasses the bottleneck of mass media that so constrains expression.” It is “a medium in which we are seeing a return to handicrafted information – as though letter writing, pamphleteering, and afternoon watercolor painting are given new life.” Therefore “the agenda for the internet is to protect its healthy diversity and enlarge the pool of people who have access to it ..... No one should be rendered invisible with respect to the internet, unless they so choose.” When technology is applied to serve human needs and feelings “we can bring our values into our information ecologies, pay attention to the dynamics of coevolving tools and practices, and develop a sure sense of the importance of all of our contributions.”


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