rudder NetMarketing
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Marketing in the internet – as seen from Italy

No. 75 – July 7, 2005

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


logo.gif 1. Ten years

There has been electronic networking for over thirty years. But there was a change ten years ago. In 1994 internet access became available to a large number of people in several countries – and more so in 1995. At the same time the world wide web, that was born in 1989, was spreading to general use (that is why many people, who came online ten years ago or later, don’t understand the difference).

It’s not exactly true that there were computers two thousand years ago, though scientists and philosophers had elaborate computing machines (see The Archimedes computer). They also had remarkably effective communication networks at that time, but they were available only to a few privileged people – and they were much slower than the systems we are using now.

It’s a fact, however, that the internet didn’t “happen” in a very short time. The concept that led to the web as we know it now could be found in ideas that were developing in the nineteenth century – and it was specifically defined sixty years ago. The process that shaped the internet was the result of an evolution that dates back to the invention of the telegraph in 1844 and the telephone in 1877. But things take time. Though there were Usenet newsgroups in 1979 (and they are still quite busy twentysix years later) most people had no idea of what the internet is, or can do, before 1995.

There is no point in being nostalgic. Though it’s a fact that the net was in many ways more efficient, and faster, in the early Nineties than it is now. There is no need to go back to Gopher and Veronica, or to “anonymous FTP”, because we can use web browsers also to find things that aren’t in websites. There is much more stuff online that there was ten or twenty years ago and it’s (relatively) easier to find. But there is also a lot of messy clutter – and some of the clumsily applauded technical “improvements” are making things less manageable and often quite disturbing.

In mid 1995 there were eight million internet hosts worldwide. In that year they grew from one to two million in Europe. Small numbers compared to what they are now, but much larger than a few years earlier. Some analysts thought that hostcount would eventually stabilize at a “roof” between forty and fifty million as a world total, around ten million in Europe. Others were projecting an enormously exaggerated “exponential” growth. They were all wrong.

In 1995 the number of people worldwide using the internet (or other networks) was probably 30 million. The world’s most applauded “experts” were sure that there would be a billion people online before year 2000. It didn’t happen. Recent estimates claim over 900 million in 2005, but a more realistic definition is somewhere between 500 and 600 million. That’s a lot of people, but only eight or nine percent of the world’s population – and mostly concentrated in a relatively small part of the planet. Networks are large, but not really “global”.

Even before 1995 there were many attempts to control, censor, centralize and otherwise “tame” the internet. They haven’t succeeded, but they are continuing. Problems such as spam and scam were clearly identified well before 1995, but nobody believed, ten (or five) years ago, that they could become as large and vicious as they are now.

Figures, of course, don’t tell the whole story. But it may be useful to take a look at what happened in a decade. Let’s start with a trend that is analyzed in greater detail in the data section. This is the growth of worldwide hostcount from 1994 to 2004.

Internet hosts worldwide – 1994-2004
numbers in millions
internet hosts

It isn’t “exponential”, but it’s remarkably fast. There were changes in speed, but only in 2002 there was less than 30 percent yearly growth.

The next graph shows development in Europe in the same period.

Internet hosts in Europe – 1994-2004
numbers in millions
internet hosts

A few years ago growth in Europe was slower than the world average, but now it’s faster (see European data.)

A somewhat different picture is shown by the number of websites – that in 2005 is getting close to 70 million.

Websites worldwide – 1995-2005
numbers in millions

After a decrease in 2001-2002 caused by the deflation of the financial “bubble”, there is strong growth also in the number of websites. But less than half of the sites are found to be “active” – and that shows that there is still a rush at “being there” without a clear idea of why, or to do what, or how to keep a website alive and productive.

It’s much more difficult to find reliable data on the number of people using the internet. This graph is a very vague approximation of what the trend may have been in the last ten years.

People connected to the internet worldwide 1994-2004
numbers in millions
people online

A more realistic estimate is probably 40 percent lower. In those countries (e.g. in western Europe) where there is higher density of internet use growth was slower in recent years than in 1995-2000 – while it’s faster in some of the areas where levels are relatively lower. But numbers are increasing whenever internet use is not forbidden or restricted. There is no perception anywhere of getting close to a “saturation level”, though of course where percentages of population are very high there isn’t much room for a further large increase of the total number of people using the net, if only occasionally.

But the sheer number of “internet users”, doesn’t tell us what they are doing with it. Of course there are considerable opportunities for improvement of quality. That depends on how people learn to tailor the net to their needs – as well as on the quality of what they can find.

A decade may be a long time in the life of a person, but it’s a short period in the development of human culture. Even people who have been online for fifteen or twenty years still have a lot to learn – if they haven’t lost their wish to search, find and improve. More new things come online every day than anyone can possibly explore. Unfortunately there is a lot of rubbish, but there are, and there will be, also attractive new discoveries.


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logo 2. How many online

No updates are available, so far, since the hostcount analyses for year-end 2004 were published in the international and European data pages. But it may be interesting to look at the situation in a different perspective.

Estimates of the number of people using the internet are always approximate, not very reliable, and often exaggerated. International comparisons are even less believable, because of differences in the definition of “internet users”. However the general picture helps to understand how unbalanced the situation can be in different parts of the world. (For a more detailed analysis see international user data – the text is in Italian. but the graphs can be easily understood regardless of language).

According to a collection of data from several sources, published by Internet Word Stats, this is the situation in the twenty countries worldwide with the largest number of “internet users” in 2005.

People online in 20 countries

people online

The next graph shows density, as a percent of population, in the same countries.

(Percentages here, as in the following world map and European density graph, are based on an overextended definition of “internet users”. A more realistic estimate is somewhere between half and two thirds of these figures).

People online in 20 countries
percentages of population

people online

There are, of course, several high-density countries not included in this list – and many with low internet penetration. A general idea of the situation worldwide can be summarized as a map.

People online per 100 inhabitants

world map

The numbers are different, but the worldwide picture shows the same pattern as in the hostcount map (see issue 74 or the international data analysis). People online are mostly concentrated in a few parts of the world.

The next graph shows the situation in the twenty European countries with the largest number of people using the internet.

People online in 20 European countries

people online

Half of the European total is in four countries. Recent trends suggest that France may be on its way to overtake Italy as the third largest country in Europe by number of “internet users”.

This is the picture, for the same twenty countries, as a percentage of population.

People online in 20 European countries
percentages of population

people online

As in the case of hostcount data, Scandinavian countries hold the leading position that they had ten or more years ago – more recently the Netherlands and Switzerland have been growing to those high levels.

According to other sources, the number of people online in some major European countries had slow growth in recent years. That does not mean that a “threshold” has been reached, but further expansion will depend on cultural evolution, quality of services available online, attitudes and information.

In most European countries, internet access is easily available to anyone who wants it. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is interested. A broad definition of “internet user” includes people who have very different behavior patterns – some use the net frequently, some only occasionally. And practically all change their ways over time.


logo 3. People online in Italy

Most international readers aren’t particularly interested in what is happening in a single country, such as Italy. But I have more detailed information, and more accurate data, especially for the last eight years, than for any other country – and some of the trends are not very different from what is happening in other places.

The picture hasn’t changed much since a summary of the situation in Italy was published last year in issue 70 (a more detailed and updated analysis is in Italian data).

The first graph shows the total number of people using the internet in Italy from 1994 to 2004. (The numbers are smaller than in the international comparisons, because the data are less inflated and more accurate.)

People online in Italy 1994-2004

people online

There was an acceleration in 1998-2000, while growth was relatively slower in recent years.

This is the same trend separating office use from home.

People online in Italy 1994-2004
numbers in thousands
people online

At all times before 1999 the internet was used mainly from the workplace. Then there was faster growth at home, but office use increased in 2003-2004 (and the trend continues in 2005).

The next graph shows a more detailed trend from 1997 to the first half of 2005.

People online in Italy 1997-2005
numbers in thousands
people online

There are seasonal changes, especially in frequent use. This graph shows the trend from March 2001 to June 2005 for people who say that they use the internet “at least once a week” (for the first time in April 2005 their number exceeded ten million).

People online in Italy March 2001 – June 2005
numbers in thousands
people online

There seems to be an early summer decrease in home use in 2005, but the general trend shows growth – not as fast as in 1998-2000, but fairy consistent over time. From the international comparisons available, similar patterns can be found in other Western European countries.

Some analysts believe that the potential is about twice the existing penetration. If current trends continue, that level could be reached in the next five years. Then, we shall see... but continuing development in the most advanced countries indicates that there may be room for greater growth, especially in frequency of use.


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logo 4. Internet non-users

Will “everybody”, at some time in the future, use the internet?  Forecasts and projections are nearly always wrong. We simply don’t know what will happen five or ten years from now. But, at the present state of affairs, it’s pretty clear that some people aren’t interested.

Obviously there are people who say «I don’t know how to use a computer and I don’t want to learn». That may be true, sometimes, but more often than not it’s an excuse. Over fifty percent of the people in Italy who own a personal computer don’t use the internet (and there are similar situations in other countries).

People with a low education level are rarely internet users. Because they feel uncomfortable with the technology (though many of them are using fairly complex equipment, including home appliances and cell phones). But, above all, because they lack the interest and the curiosity. Most of the frequent internet users are people with above-average use of other communication and information tools – including newspapers and books.

Older people are below-average users of the internet. Not all of them – there are people that started when they were eighty years old and feel quite comfortable online. But, while the number is increasing, there is still a small percentage of internet users at ages 65 or higher.

The problem will be “automatically” reduced when current users get older, but in countries with high (and increasing) median age it’s a pity that too many “senior citizens” are deprived of a tool that is particularly suited for their needs. There should be better planned efforts to improve this situation, starting with elderly people at the higher education levels, who can in turn persuade and guide others.

There are people who tried and gave up. Their first experiences online were discouraging. Or maybe they started with one way of using the net, then they lost interest in that particular activity (as happens often with young people) and they didn’t bother to find out that they could do other things online.

This problem will, to a large extent, solve itself spontaneously, if and when people learn from friends, work needs or other environment situations that they have a good reason to come back online. But better information on what the net is and what it can do would help to accelerate the process.

There are people who are scared. They read about scams and viruses, stolen credit cards and money mongering, online crime and unhealthy or misleading content... they view scary movies and horror tv stories... etcetera... and they feel that it’s safer to stay away. Good information on how to avoid problems could help them to feel less uncomfortable.

There are people who simply aren’t interested. If they know what the internet is, and still don’t want it, they are right. But do they know? Or were they just put off by watching someone doing things that they don’t like or don’t understand?

Of course it’s perfectly possible to live happily without ever using the internet (or, for that matter, any other tool – I know people who lead a comfortable life without ever learning to drive a car).

There are senior executives and other high-ranking people who would feel debased if they ever touched a computer (or any other office equipment). They have secretaries and assistants who do it for them. That’s fine – as long as they don’t bore us with patronizing explanations of their confusing assumptions about the internet (or write their opinions in newspapers and books, teach them in universities, discuss them in conventions and television talk shows).

The growth of the internet isn’t just a matter of numbers. It’s spreading unevenly, but pretty fast. In addition to making access easily available where it isn’t, the real need is to spread a better understanding of what the net really is – and how people can tailor it to fit their needs, for work, education, information, entertainment and communication.

Widespread access to the internet became available, for people living in a “developed” and free environment, ten years ago. Large as it has become, it’s quite young. Most of its possible development is still ahead of us.



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