timone NetMarketing
disponibile anche in italiano

Marketing in the internet – as seen from Italy

No. 60 – November 26, 2001

Other articles on similar subjects
are published in English
in the monthly Offline column


loghino.gif (1071 byte) 1. Editorial: The internet isn’t “newborn”

Every now and then someone comes up with a new “birthday” for the internet. Some say that we should celebrate at this time, because the first “chip”, or microprocessor, was commercially available in November 1971. But that was not the “birth” of the net. The invention of the microchip was important for the evolution of personal computers, that helped internet expansion, but PC structure had been defined in 1968 and networking systems were in development since 1964 – based on concepts that had a much longer history. There was a cultural evolution that would have almost inevitably led to a communication system of this type, using a variety of technologies that had been gradually developed in different fields. So it’s difficult to set a precise date for the beginning of the internet, though for several reasons it is not unreasonable to say that it’s approximately thirty years old (for instance the currently widespread system for e-mail started in 1971).

In those thirty years there is a lot of interesting history and of practical experience that is still very useful. As I said two years ago, this is not a case of nostalgia. But there are values and experiences that it would be silly to forget.

Many today choose to pretend that it never happened. They want us to believe that the internet was just born and should be treated as an ignorant child. They want us all back to school, to learn whatever ways and practices suit their particular interests and inclinations. They want to re-invent the internet, and indoctrinate its users, as they think is most convenient.

These self-appointed “new teachers” point to the fact that until 1994 internet users were a relatively small community of people that felt rather special because they were online (but that doesn’t mean that it was an élite – and, small as it was, it had considerable cultural variety). Only in 1997 the use of the internet became “popular” in the United States (and a year later in most European countries). That’s true. But it doesn’t mean that thirty years of experience are to be ignored, or that “new” users are stupid and can’t find their way around without the biased guidance of “nannies” trying to direct them where is most convenient for some commercial interest or cultural prejudice.

The people who want to send us back to kindergarten believe that everything online should be subsidiary to a few commercial interests. They want to centralize it so they can dominate it. That isn’t good for anyone – not even in the long run, for the people who are trying to gain control, because the territories they dominate will dry up and become deserts. It’s certainly not good for the rest of the world – and if it doesn’t work for culture and society it doesn’t work for business.

It would help people to understand the traditions of the internet, learn from thirty years of experience. But even newcomers that aren’t aware of the net’s history often discover the values, find their way. People don’t need to be led or “tutored”. They should be encouraged to experiment and to develop their personal styles and inclinations.

Commercial activities are not the essence or the backbone of the internet. The basic need is to encourage the free development of human, social and cultural interchange, with the greatest possible variety. To avoid centralization or domination by anyone. And then to find the right place also for commercial activities, which naturally exist in any human environment.

People online (including newcomers) aren’t stupid. They learn from those that were online before them – or find spontaneously their own way. They discover and develop human values, knowledge and dialogue. The basic realities on which the net is founded and without which it has no reason to exist.

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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 2. Slower growth?

Trends and developments will need to be reviewed in coming months – but there seems to be slower growth of internet use. For instance in Italy, after two years of fast growth, the number of people online is increasing at a much slower rate in 2001.

An article by Kathy Foley published by Nua on November 12, 2001 reports that according to Oftel, the national telecommunications regulator, only 39 percent of UK households were online in August, compared with 40 percent in May. Of course one percent is not a statistically relevant figure, but if there isn’t a drop in the number of homes online there is stagnation, while everyone was predicting fast growth.

The article points out that this is bad news for the British government, which hopes to have every British citizen using the internet by 2005, and is currently running a major advertising campaign urging people to go online. In March of this year, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that by 2005, “It is likely the internet will be as ubiquitous and as normal as electricity is today.” Not bloody likely, mate, if the current state of affairs is anything to go by.
In all fairness to the British government, they are doing their best to push up Internet penetration. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph earlier this year, the government is trying to ensure that all schools and libraries in the UK will be online by 2002. It also plans to open 1,000 IT learning centers, and will lease computers to 100,000 disadvantaged families.
These measures should go some way towards bringing online those who cannot afford the hardware, the increased telephone bills, and the subscription fees necessary to go online at home. In an earlier Oftel survey this year, 15 percent of households said the reason they could not go online was that they could not afford it. The same survey found that a third of all households said they did not want or need home internet access.

There are symptoms of stagnation also in the Untied States.

A new study of US Internet penetration by Harris Interactive was also released last week and it found that the proportion of all adults online at home, at work, at school, or at another location has remained virtually unchanged at about 64 percent for the last 12 months. Internet penetration has reached a plateau stateside and it is unlikely to grow appreciably in the next few years. The other 36 percent of US adults? At a guess, most of them just couldn’t be bothered.

Some people think that things could change with broadband, but that is not a solution.

Unfortunately, the rollout of broadband in the UK has been shambolic. At least 9 percent of US households have high-speed Internet access but less than 1 percent of UK households have such access.
Another report released last week, this time by the Oecd, found that Britain came 22nd in a 30-country league table of broadband penetration. Only 0.28 percent of British Internet users have broadband net access, in comparison with the Oecd average of 1.96 broadband connections per hundred people.
Even if broadband providers in the UK manage to extricate themselves from the current mess of disorganization and bad publicity, we must accept that there will always be those who aren’t interested in using the internet, who just can’t be bothered to go to all the trouble of going online.

Many people still seem to believe that broadband is a miracle solution for all problems. It isn’t (see The broadband disease). For 99 percent of what people really want from the internet broadband is useless – as it is useless to “upgrade” to more expensive hardware or software. Many uselessly “heavy” solutions aren’t just a waste of time and money. They don’t work, they don’t provide what people really want, they lead to inefficiency and disappointment.

It’s too soon to tell if we are really in a stagnation of internet development and to try to explain why. But there are probably four factors to be considered.

  • A “temporary threshold”. All of the people who two or three years ago were interested in using the internet now are online – or have dropped out because they didn’t find what they wanted. It’s a slower process for other people, who are not as keen, to gradually discover that maybe they have some reason to try.

  • A negative mood in business. There is disappointment and perplexity in many companies, large and small.

  • A depressive effect of mainstream media. There has been, and there continues to be, an exaggerated echo of the failures of some large internet operations – which is, quite wrongly, described as a general failure of the internet. A misperception that leads to “wait and see” attitudes or to cosmetic activities with a lack of real commitment. The exaggerated hype on gee-whiz technical solutions or bizarre offers that most people find uninteresting has an equally negative effect.

  • Disappointment. Many promises are not kept, many online services are inadequate. The more fantastic expectations are generated, the more disappointing are the realities.

Above all – we need to understand that nothing has linear or constant growth. Ups-and-downs are to be expected, it’s quite natural for fast growth to be followed by adjustments and slower developments. The exaggeration of problems and promises generates confusion and disappointment. Only a more practical, simple and human understanding of real values can lead to solid and sound growth.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 3. New European data

As said in previous issues – since November 2000 detailed analyses of internet statistics are in the data section of this site (now available also in English). This is a summary of the most relevant information in the most recent European data.

There are 15 countries in Europe with over 300,000 internet hosts, as we see in this graph.

Internet hosts in 15 European countries
Analysis on RIPE statistics – October 2001


The most relevant changes are the growth of the Netherlands (though we can’t be totally sure that this is now the country in Europe with the largest internet activity) and a substantial increase in Russia (that a few months ago reported 300,000 internet hosts and now has 800,000).

From the point of view of density (in proportion to population) this is the situation in 20 European countries with over 100,000 internet hosts.

Internet hosts per 1000 inhabitants
Analysis on RIPE statistics – October 2001


This is the density situation in Europe seen as a map.

Internet hosts per 1000 inhabitants


The next graph shows, for the same 20 countries, hostcount in relation to income.

Internet hosts in relation to income (GNP)
Analysis on RIPE statistics – October 2001


Some large countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, are relatively underdeveloped online in relation to the size of their economies. Once again we notice a strong position, from this point of view, of some Eastern European countries.



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