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Marketing in the internet – as seen from Italy

No. 53 – December 7, 2000



loghino.gif (1071 byte) 1. Editorial: Diseases in business e-mail

Isn’t it wonderful? Now we have corporate e-mail. Everything works better, people save time there is smoother communication and cooperation. Is it so? Quite often, it isn’t. New systems are introduced mechanically, without adequate experience and preparation. And they can cause more problems than they solve.

This isn’t just a matter of people adjusting to technology. That’s mostly a matter of time. A few people catch on earlier, others learn from them. Sooner or later it becomes a habit. But inmany cases things get much more complicated, because of lack in planning and poor perception of problems that could be easily solved if they were understood.

Fifteen years ago, in a large multinational company e-mail was already ordinary practice. All executives, secretaries, etc. had computers and they were all connected. So they invented the electronic diary. Each person could set up meetings with anyone else by booking time automatically on other people’s diaries. After a while they were all running around with printed sheets and pencils trying to sort out conflicting dates and times. It was a total mess and the project had to be canceled. In those days such problems were rare; now they are everywhere. And they are getting worse. Here are a few examples:

  • Copies of messages are sent to an enormous number of people. Everyone is flooded with unwanted e-mail, including such things as “I lost my watch, did anyone find it?” or “there is no more soap in the third floor restroom”.
  • Top management gets copies of “almost everything”. There used to be a secretary that filtered mail and phone calls, but now the head of the company believes that he or she must read everything personally – and get involved. Management wastes time, roles become confused, executives get overruled without even knowing, hasty and conflicting decisions lead to embarrassment and confusion.
  • The same question, request or proposal goes to five or six different people, in different department and functions. They all react independently. Even the simplest problem turns into an unmanageable mess.
  • If two people have a disagreement, instead of sorting it out personally they use e-mail and copy everyone else. The argument spreads and gets more and more complicated. The smallest flame becomes a forest fire.
  • Someone writes something and send copies to “all concerned”. Everyone is flooded with mail and has no time to read or reply, especially if it’s a long document and a complex issue. Some time later, after the fact, it turns out that there wasn’t agreement; but the intra-spammer has an easy answer: “I told you, you didn’t react, so I assumed agreement.”
  • In some offices, computers are always online. When a message arrives, something blinks and says “you have mail.” There is a hardly resistible temptation for people to stop what they are doing and read the incoming messages, which often are irrelevant. The loss of time and concentration id quite distressing. So we are back to the worst use of the telephone and lose one of the greatest advantages of e-mail – that we can choose when to write and when to read.

This list could be much longer. In each company or organization there are different forms of the same disease. It’s a case of poorly conceived or clumsily applied technologies; but also, and more seriously, of errors in human behavior. There is a lack of education: explaining to people how the tools should be used. And, even worse, a lack of perception and control on how the system is working. Some problems are predictable, and can be avoided from the beginning. Others are not, but they would be solved much more easily if they were diagnosed and treated before they become a widespread infection.

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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 2. Christmas viruses

There are hoaxes and there are exaggerated reports on virus scares. But there are also real viruses and they are likely to spread with the holiday season and new year’s greetings. With so many people sending pictures, “postcards” and all sorts of attachments, it’s an opportunity for worms to spread; and some are deliberately designed for that purpose.

There is one, in Spanish, that is “in the wild” also in countries where other languages are spoken. It’s called feliz navidad. Sometimes the attachment contains only an image like this.

feliz navidad

“Unfortunately you fell for the temptation and you lost your computer”. Luckily, in this case it’s only a joke; the scary message is there, but there is no virus. But more often navidad is a real virus. Of course it doesn’t destroy the computer, but it can cause a fair amount of trouble. The best antivirus systems already have a treatment for navidad and also for other viruses that disguise themselves as christmas or new year’s greetings (some are new; some are older worms that have adopted a new appearance for the occasion.) But, in any case, it’s better to be careful, because probably there will be more.

It would be safer for all of us (as well as a bandwidth saving) if we exchanged our greetings as plain text. Attachments can be fun but they can hide all sorts of problems.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 3. Net dropouts

According to Oxford professor Steve Woodgar there are 28 million people in the United States, and two million in the UK, who tried the internet and then dropped out. Statistics, of course, are always questionable. But this information isn’t new – or surprising. And it helps to understand why the number of internet “users” isn’t growing as fast as many sources estimate.

There has always been a fairly high dropout rate. And it’s probably getting worse, because of too much overpromising hype – and too many disappointing offerings online.

Many newcomers are “led” by welcoming services to places that they don’t find interesting. They are told that it’s “easy” to find what they want – and of course they are disappointed when they find that it isn’t. They are enticed to visit sites that don’t keep their promises, and believe that most other places are the same (that is, unfortunately, true.) Some are lucky, and soon find they way. Others are persistent, and over time learn how to get behind the surface. But several, quite predictably, just get bored – and quit.

Will they come back? Probably. If and wen they will become interested in e-mail for their personal or business correspondence. Or when someone will offer something online that is interesting for them. And when fewer promises will be made – and more will be kept.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 4. The forgotten “millennium”

There isn’t much to be said about the “millennium”, except for the fact that it’s one more proof of how poorly information is managed by mainstream media. They made such an enormous noise abut the fake millennium a year ago, that now the real change of century is practically ignored.

And... remember the bug? In the afternoon of December 31, 1999, someone called me on the phone. «Can you please check if something happened in New Zealand?» I reassured him. Where the date line had been crossed, there were no blackouts, no breakdowns in public services, and computers were working. He is well educated, technically aware and not prone to anxiety. But he was seriously worried. And so were many other people.

The two-digit bug was ignored for decades, blown up out of all proportion for a while, then forgotten again (as far as I know, it’s not completely solved; it could re-surface in some systems twenty or thirty years from now).

The case of the “forgotten millennium”, of course, isn’t serious. But the problem is that we are flooded all the time with enormous amount of “information” about things that are irrelevant, if not totally untrue; while many relevant fact and issues are ignored. And that is a very serious problem.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 4. The new economy grows old
(Gerry McGovern)

Readers of this newsletter, and of other things on this site, know that I’ve been talking several times about things called “new economy” that are really quite old; and of the real nature of the internet being overshadowed by false perspectives that have no future. On this subject, I am pleased to quote again one of my favorite authors, Gerry McGovern. On December 4, in his article The new economy grows old, he wrote:

Where has all the youth, energy, and exuberance gone? Where has the will to change the world gone? Where has the belief that the revolution was unstoppable gone? That this time it was different? That this time it really was out with the old, in with the new?
The new economy is suffering some growing pains. The dotcom revolution has hit the inflexible iceberg of reality, and stock options have become like deck chairs on the Titanic. For a while, the world became like a film set. Everything seemed possible and caution was thrown to the lions. For a while, it was easy to believe that we could all write our own happy endings.
It’s not the end, but rather the end of the beginning. The shift from the old to the new is genuine and profound. We still need to dream to imagine the impact the internet will have on our futures. It has already brought about profound changes. But these are nothing to the changes that it will bring about over the next 25 years.
Twenty-five years is a long time – well, it depends how you look at it.   If you measure it by “internet time,” then it is a very long time indeed. If you measure it against human history (let alone the age of the galaxy), then it’s not really that long at all.
Internet time – the idea that three months represented one year in the internet economy – by now must be seriously discredited. The intense rush it created resulted in a lot of bad decisions, shaky projects, and shaky companies. The speed of technology will always be limited by the more careful workings of the human brain. There’s only so fast we can go without losing control. It’s no harm to slow down a little.
“Change is good” was the wired generation’s mantra. The new was going to sweep away all the old practices, all the old ways of doing things. In the new economy, we were all going to think differently, to work differently. Things were really going to be better. Work was going to be fun.
When your stock options go down the drain, your sense of humor can go underwater. Fun gets redefined. It’s no fun to work long hours for modest pay. Flexibility begins to looks like lack of structure and support. Amazon workers stop talking about looking after the customer, but rather looking after themselves, as they seek to join a union.
A recent LBS and Korn/Ferry study of MBA graduates who joined dotcoms found that many of them were questioning their decisions. The study stated that the graduates found that «the hours worked were longer, the travel is more onerous, and the time at home more limited. The new economy company increasingly mirrors the old, but without a supportive infrastructure.»
So, is the party over? Yeah, well, maybe ... the innocence has certainly gone. All of us who work in the internet are putting our clocks back. A year is now a year, a month a month. Reality is back in fashion.
Let’s not get carried away by the bear stock market. The internet is here to stay. It may now take years to realize the dream, to make the idea real. Do we have what it takes? We’re still playing in the field of the future. If we give up now we never deserved the rewards in the first place.

That’s pretty clear. I have nothing to add, at this point, to several things that I had written and quoted on this subject. Such as:

Festina lente (May 1999)

The cultivation of the internet (October 1999)

Dancing bulls and fat cows (December 1999)

Is hasty really fast? (January 2000)

Do androids dream of electric money? (February2000)

Stormy weather for “dot coms” (July 2000)

Is this the end of the web era? (October 2000)

In praise of slowness (November 2000)


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