timone NetMarketing
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Marketing in the internet – as seen from Italy

No. 51 – October 18, 2000



loghino.gif (1071 byte) 1. Editorial: “Robber barons” aren’t new

It’s no surprise that the old definition, “robber barons”, is being used in relation to the so-called “new economy”. Apparently its origins were in the Middle Ages, when feudal lords “did nothing save fight each other and loot merchant caravans that passed under the walls of their castles”. In 1934 Matthew Josephson called “robber barons” the people who, with enormous concentration of wealth, had become even more powerful than the medieval landowners. There has been a lot of debate ever since about which of those “billionaires” were “malefactors of great wealth” (as President Theodore Roosevelt called them) or “public benefactors” and “industrial statesmen” leading a healthy growth of the economy. There is even a videogame called 1830: Railroads and Robber Barons.

Attorney Janet Reno mentioned “robber barons” in the case against Microsoft. In several other comments the same concept has come up in relation to today’s affairs. That’s no coincidence. The debate will probably continue about who and how is getting rich by doing good and who is using a position of advantage in ways that are harmful and dangerous for the economy as a whole and for the wellbeing of people. But the crucial point is that none of this is new.

Today’s robber barons argue that because it’s a “new economy” the concepts of the past don’t apply. It may be true that some new elements need to be considered, such as technologies, communication systems and greater “globalization”. But the railways and the telegraph were as revolutionary in the nineteenth century as information technology and the internet are today. Many of the stock swindles of the past crossed borders. We can still learn from history; and this is no time to be patient or tolerant with “robber barons”, financial manipulation or the obvious (and increasing) damages of monopolies and warped markets.

The definition “new economy” has been twisted in so many ways that it’s becoming meaningless. And many of its woes are simply old tricks and manipulations disguised as “new”. Everyone agrees that information is the driving force in the economy and society. That means that no one can be allowed to own it or control it.

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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 2. Is this the end of the web era?
(George Colony)

Five months ago I quoted a bright and interesting article by George Colony (chairman and CEO of Forrester Research) on the weaknesses of the “dot coms”. Facts continue to prove him right – in Europe as well as in the United States. On October 12 he published a new article, X internet – The web will fade, in which he raises an interesting question. The web era may be coming to an end – while the age of the internet is still in its infancy. This is how his article begins.

We’re in a strange place at the moment. The sweet stench of Dot Com carcasses wafts through the equity and venture markets. Much of the breathless ecommerce hype gassing out of Forbes, Business Week, Wall Street analysts, CNBC, and other advertising/fee-funded sources has abated.
Is it over? Was the internet a fad? No. But we
are entering a new era. We have just gone through the calisthenics of the internet economy: there was lots of huffing and puffing, but the match hasn’t started yet.
Many people think the internet and the web are the same thing. They’re not. The internet is a piece of wire that goes from me to you and from me to 300 million other people in the world. The web is software that I put on my end of the wire, and you put on your end – allowing us to exchange information.
While the internet (the wire) evolves gradually, the software on the wire can change quickly. Before the web, other software was clamped onto the internet. Wais, gopher, and usenet were the dominant systems, and there were companies that were doing commerce using those software models. Then along came Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen (the inventors of the web), and suddenly all of the old systems were pushed into the background.
Most civilians think that the web will define the landscape for a long time. A media executive I met with recently expressed this thinking: «Oh, I get it. It’s 1952 and the web is like TV. The game is going to play out for 20 to 30 years, and there will be an ABC of the web, and a CBS, and a BBC, and an NBC, etc.» Wrong. Another software technology will come along and kill off the web, just as
it killed news, gopher, et al. And that judgment day will arrive very soon – in the next two to three years, not 25 years from now.

George Colony goes on to suggest that the web will be replaced by another technology, called “X-internet”. This is how he explains it.

While web communications are conducted via the exchange of pages, the new software model will use executables (programs). What’s the difference? Think of pages versus executables as the difference between reading a book and talking to a friend. Yes, all of those pages in the book are interesting and instructive. But you can’t converse with a book the way you can with a friend. You can’t cooperate with a book to perform a task. A book won’t answer an unexpected question. The web is like reading a book. An executable-powered internet is like a two-way conversation.

I don’t know if such a replacement is likely – or if the change needs to be based on technology. But the basic point is not technology: it’s the way people use the internet. And I think George Colony has hit a crucial point. A site-centered, one-way system is merely a replica of the traditional, centralized media. The web, when used in that manner, is standing in the way of internet development. What we need to do is re-discover the roots of the net and move ahead with the real revolution in communication.

This is how he sees the outcome of the upcoming change:

What It Means – No. 1: Web-centric companies get stuck holding the bag. They will wake up one day with hundreds of millions of dollars of legacy code on their hands. Yes, their brands will remain intact, but their technology will suddenly be very outmoded. Yahoo!, eBay, and AOL will find themselves competing with a new wave of commerce players that market, deliver, and service using the superior technology of X Internet. One of the upstarts will Amazon Amazon.

What It Means – No. 2: Investors get happy. The new wave of startups will race to market with X Internet, blasting old web infrastructure and commerce companies out of their path. Internet creative destruction, round two.

What It Means – No.3: Peer-to-peer (P2P) networking rockets. The X internet’s “smarts everywhere” design will enable an epidemic of Napstering. Courts, legislators, governments, companies, and other rule makers will have to contend with an empowered and ever more liberated, unruly populace – armed with technology that allows them to bypass economic toll roads and bridges.

What It Means – No. 4: If you are a global 2,500 company, get ready for another round of change. This means: 1) overhauling the skills of your technologists; 2) destroying perfectly good web sites in favor of the X internet; 3) dumping web-centric suppliers; and 4) retooling organizations. Change management will get a new test.

Will all of this happen by means of new technologies, or by using existing tools more effectively? I don’t know – and I don’t think it’s important. But one thing is clear. The real change is still to come; and anyone concentrating on imitation, standardized practices or web-centered strategies is very likely to be missing the true wave of the future. And that future is not five or ten years away. It will come sooner – and it’s an opportunity today for anyone willing to build with consistency, determination and care.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 3. Writing that Works (Kenneth Roman)

The reason why I think this book is relevant today isn’t just that it’s third edition, published in September 2000, includes some useful suggestions about how to use e-mail and the internet. Writing That Works by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson is a “classic” on good writing – not for people with literary ambitions but for effective communication in business. This has always been important, but it’s even more so as we move ahead in the “age of communication”.


click here

for a more accurate image of the cover
(but it’s heavier – 45 kbytes)

The first edition was published in 1981 and soon became a key point of reference for effective business writing. It was updated in 1992 (even the best books can always be improved) and this third edition is even better than the very successful ones that were published and reprinted in the last twenty years. It’s obviously written for people living in an English-speaking environment, but it’s even more useful for people in the rest of the world, even if they have a limited knowledge of the “global” language. Many of the suggestions in this book are useful for writing in any language; and, in addition to that, using English effectively is more and more important for all of us, no matter where we are or what we do for a living.



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