No. 54 December 18, 2000
||1. Editorial: Christmas anxiety|
Its been happening, every year, for several years. There
are widespread speculations in the press on how many
Christmas presents are going to be bought online, then scarce
reports after the fact, that include some comments about
customer disappointment. Some information is published about
results in the United States, little or nothing about the
rest of the world.
We are in the same cycle this year, with an added element
of anxiety. According to some newspapers, Goldman Sachs
predicts that the year 2000 Christmas season will be the
final test for many online retailers. Those that will not
achieve full success large sales and satisfied customers
are likely to die in 2001.
If that is true, its a very shaky industry. Its quite
normal for a business to do its best to manage a high-volume
period and obtain the best possible customer satisfaction.
But no well established company risks its entire future or
its survival on the results of a few weeks.
Those online retailers (if any) that have a sound
business concept and the financial resources to support it
will survive even if seasonal results are below expectations.
Those that are betting their entire future on a short gift
period (and-or are unable to survive without additional
venture capital or favorable stock trading) have no roots
and dont deserve to survive, or to be kept alive by the
whims of investors, even if they are lucky with some gimmick
in the Christmas season.
This is just one more symptom of a nervous, hasty,
superficial approach to doing business on the internet. More
potentially good enterprises are likely to die. More poorly
conceived and badly managed companies may be kept
artificially alive by superficial short-term luck or
undeserved financial support. Once again... a large part of
the so-called new economy is built on quicksand.
Most of the real future of e-business is still unborn or
not even conceived.
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||2. In praise of simplicity (Gerry McGovern)|
Of course this is no coincidence. Only eleven days after
the article that I included in issue 53,
I am quoting once again the same author; and on a subject
that is quite familiar to readers of this newsletter and
other articles on this site. These seems to be
no end to the mindless growth of unnecessary and cumbersome
complications. But resistance is beginning
to build up. There is a growing feeling in favor of simplicity. This is the
that Gerry McGovern published on December 11: In praise of simplicity.
We live in a world where change and complexity are forced
on us at every turn. The world is hitting back. People are
yearning for simplicity. People are tired of technology that
constantly overcomplicates things, that is poorly designed,
and that is full of bugs.
A classic example is WAP phones. The ads promise ultimate
freedom, but the reality is that they are excruciatingly
difficult to use, and that they deliver precious little
benefit. The result is that consumers are becoming more
conservative than ever in what they buy and how they use
technology. The average person, for example, uses no more
than 10 percent of the features in common software, such as
A recent study by FCB Worldwide found that European
buyers are becoming increasingly more cautious. «There
is a massive amount of inertia,» according to an FCB
director, «people have a lot of education about these
products, but the more they know, the less they are tempted
to buy something that will be upgraded next week.» The
study also found that consumers are unhappy with the fact
that they are being offered feature-overloaded products, but
for all these features, the products often dont do the basic
things that the consumer wants them to do.
This is no accident. The technology industry is a speed
addict. The only thing that matters for many companies is to
get the product to market before the competition, regardless
of whether it works or not. Ship, then test, is
the motto of the software industry, according to Silicon
Valley guru, Guy Kawasaki. He received a standing ovation
from over 1,000 entrepreneurs when he made the statement:
«Dont worry, be crappy.»
The consumer is not happy. A July study by PC World found
that very few consumers are satisfied with the computers they
buy. It found that approximately 22 percent of computers
break down every year, compared to 9 percent of video
recorders, 8 percent of refrigerators, and 7 percent of big-screen TVs.
Another study by the Gartner Group found that 25 percent of laptops
The information worker is not happy. A report by the Meta
Group found that even though technology workers are working
longer hours than ever, their productivity is diminishing.
The reasons given are that the projects have become more
complex, and because people are changing jobs more often,
they are taking longer to acquire the appropriate skills and
experience. «Hours worked were far longer, but
productivity was far down,» according to Howard Rubin, a
leading researcher on software labor patterns.
Complexity is the curse of the digital age. It is a type
of intellectual pollution that smothers clear thought.
Complexity is not a sign of intelligence, but rather a sign
of a hyperactive mind gouging on more. True genius and great
design is about turning something complex into a product that
is simple to use and delivers a real benefit to the consumer.
If the technology industry does not stop its love affair
with rapid change and complexity, it will alienate a whole
marketplace of consumers. Never before has the KISS motto
been more true Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Such words of wisdom should be read and heard more often. There is a lot of real complexity in the world. One of the reasons why we are unable to solve it is that we are too busy with the artificial complexities of poorly conceived technologies.
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||3. The spam disease|
There seems to be no end to the spamming syndrome.
Experienced users know how to live with it. Its fairly easy
to detect spam messages at first glance and get rid of them
without bothering to read them. Occasionally I glance at a
few (maybe one in a hundred) just to get an idea of what they
are up to. They are generally quite stupid and pedestrian;
only with very large numbers the spammers can hope to find
occasional customers. But that is the problem. One of the
messages I read before thrashing it offered 142 million
e-mail addresses for 149 dollars. Of course such lists are
They contain multiple addresses for the same person,
expired mailboxes, etc. But its so cheap to use them...
buyers of such a list could send a hundred thousand messages
a day for four years. If one in ten thousands answers,
theyre in business. Or so the bulk mail traders claim.
Though often the buyers of such lists are the first victims, because
they dont achieve the results that they expected
and they make themselves very unpopular.
It isnt easy to eradicate this disease. Some of the
treatments are worse than the illness as in the case of a
large provider that in an attempt to block spam sources
deprived it users of some of their regular mail. Maybe one
day someone will find an effective remedy. In the meantime...
we can take it with a touch of humor. As in these two
cartoons picked from the vast collection published by
Illiad (J. D. Frazer).
November 5, 2000:
December 17, 2000:
With wireless transmission, we are already spreading a fair amount of dirt in space. Lets hope that the spam disease can be cured before it goes interplanetary. I think the only radical solution is the education, intelligence and awareness of people. When nobody buys, spamming dies.