timone NetMarketing
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Marketing in the internet – as seen from Italy

No. 49 – September 22, 2000



loghino.gif (1071 byte) 1. Editorial: Managing conflicts

When we think about online communities, we instinctively (and reasonably) concentrate on consensus and mutual help. A community must be useful to all its members and it’s right to focus on shared opinions and behaviors, points of agreement and cooperation. But that doesn’t mean that everything must always bee harmony and consent, that we should avoid differences of opinion – and conflicts. Pointless arguments and “flames” need to be put out as quickly as possible. But there are differences of opinion, attitude or culture that are relevant and should be seen as values rather than problems.

Three are conflicts and disagreements in any environment. If well understood, they can be more of a strength than a hindrance. If a conflict is hidden or misunderstood, it’s better to bring it out, to understand its reasons, to learn from it. This is true in any community or human relationship. In couples, in families, in working environments and organizations. There are effective psychological therapies that work by bringing out conflicts.

It’s quite surprising that there is so little analysis on this subject in the studies of management and organization. It’s important, I think, to understand that conflicts need to be understood – and can be managed. This can be done in many different ways; but I think that there are essentially four ways of resolving conflicts.

  1. Quench them or reduce their impact. That is, discover the causes and remove them, or at least reduce the discomfort.

  2. Remove them. This can imply drastic solutions, such as moving a person to different task or eliminating from the organization people who cause problems and conflicts.

  3. Resolve them. By changing the circumstances that create conflict situations, improving the organization or the environment, clarifying relationships, etc.

  4. Manage them. To understand when and how conflicts can be useful, can generate an improvement.

The general practice, when a conflict is identified, is to go for one of the first three solutions. Often that is the right way. But not always. There is energy in a conflict, that (if it is allowed to build up in a container) can lead to an explosion. But if understood and put to work it can become an engine of development and innovation.

If this is true in any human environment, it’s even more so in an online community. Listening is a difficult art. And it’s even more difficult to understand those conflicts that are not just personality clashes but fertile “melting pots” of ideas and experiences. But it can be very rewarding. Innovation and quality improvement often start off looking like “conflicts”.

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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 2. More perplexities in e-business

While the destiny of many “dot coms” looks gloomy in the United States and elsewhere, there are obvious perplexities also in Italy. The general hype continues, but there are reports of dismay, even in mainstream media, that are not based only on the ups-and-downs of the stock exchange.

For instance there was an article on September 8, in a major newsmagazine, that was not written by a journalist looking in from the outside. It reflected directly the point of view of a manager of one of the largest contenders in the “war of the portals”.

Once upon a time there was the internet hurricane, that quite rightly displeased all of the people who don’t feel comfortable with words and concepts flagged as authoritative imperatives. Now the hurricane in blowing the other way: newspapers are crammed with woe for the end of electronic commerce, the disappointment of those who thought they could get rich quickly and have soon met with the hard realities of the economy ...

I’m a fairly careful reader of newspapers and I haven’t noticed any such “hurricane” of dismay. There is still more hype than doubt. But this article and a few others of the same kind (in addition to what is often whispered, away from the limelight, in business circles) reveals what the real feelings are inside large companies that have invested heavily in the so-called “new economy” and expected returns too soon and too easily.

Of course there is no hurricane. E-business isn’t dying; to a large extent it isn’t born. But it’s more obvious every day that there has been too much haste – and that exaggerated expectations could only lead do disappointment.

Again recently, in several circumstances, I have met owners and managers of companies, large and small, who are either dismayed or confused. If they tried something online, they are disappointed. If they didn’t they have an uncomfortable feeling that they should, but they don’t know how.

There are fewer declared bankruptcies (o extensive staff cuts) in Europe than on the other side of the Atlantic; but there are many failures. I’ve seen well conceived projects canceled overnight because top management felt uncomfortable about supporting them. Some good ideas warped by clumsy executions. And lots of very bad ideas put on the market with great fanfare and causing nothing but confusion on the marketplace.

It’s often quite amazing to see the lack of quality, care and substance in the way major projects are handled by organizations supported by those who are supposed to be the wisest and most competent venture capitalists. Hollow.com is a definition that applies here as much as it does in the United States – probably more so.

The irony is that there is nothing really remote or alien in e-business. Most basic good business principles apply – and what is needed is an additional touch of good service and customer care. But those things need attention, commitment and patience. The current lore is that no such hard work is needed to succeed online; all you do is go out with something flashy and you get rich overnight. The fact is that you don’t – unless you are smart or lucky enough to unload the bundle onto someone else who is then left with the problem of making it really work (or maybe manages to sell it, merge it or find new capital to move it a step ahead in the same wrong direction). The real mystery is why it’s taking people and companies (as well as media) so long to find out that this merry-go-round can’t last forever and that the resulting mess is standing in the way of genuine, well-planned business ventures.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 3. Another “witchhunt” in Italy

A “witchthunt” has started again in Italy. The perpetrators are a few magistrates (especially a megalomaniac in Torre Annunziata near Naples), a priest in Sicily leading a band of vigilantes... and Microsoft. Plus several politicians exploiting the issue – and most of the mainstream media.

There had been previous “waves” of anti-internet propaganda based on “pedophilia”. This one started with two awful crimes (two young girls assassinated) in late August. Those murders don’t seem to be sex-related but caused an emotional wave.

It’s a known fact that 80 or 90 percent of violence against children (or teenagers) occurs in families, and most of the rest in neighborhood environments (including schools and churches). In spite of that clear fact 99 percent of the political debate and the (enormous) media coverage concentrate on “pedophile internet web sites”. The “news” is extremely confusing. Some reports talk about “thousands of people” being involved in the inquiry, but other say that eight, or maybe sixteen, people have been arrested. No case is reported of any of these people being involved in actual violence against children or “minors”. On the other hand, hundreds of people who are totally innocent or maybe guilty of looking at a “questionable” website have been submitted to extreme harassments (only a few of those many cases have been reported by the press). One of the initiatives was setting up a fake “pornographic” site (organized by Microsoft) and encouraging people to visit it. As far as we know from information publicly available, none of the people who fell into the trap was identified as having any “pedophile” inclinations.

Of course a traffic of disgusting materials, including torture and killings, has existed for many years (long before the internet) and apparently some of those materials are being exchanged online. One of the inquiries claims to have located a source of such trade in Russia (but so far nobody in Russia has been charged for any such crime). One of the inquiring magistrates claims that there are sources of “pedopornography” in Europe, and specifically in Italy, but there is no clear information about those sources or what they are doing to identify people and organizations abusing minors for the production of such materials.

The current witchhunt is being largely exploited by the media for “sensationalism”, by several interests to promote censorship on the net, and by police authorities to increase their (already large) control powers.

There is a lot of material online on this subject, but unfortunately it’s only in Italian. For anyone who understands the language... see the freedom and censorship section on this site.

Some background information in English on the situation in Italy can be found in a report at the CFP2000 convention.



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