No. 53 December 7, 2000
||1. Editorial: Diseases in business e-mail|
Isnt 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
isnt. New systems are introduced mechanically, without
adequate experience and preparation. And they can cause more
problems than they solve.
This isnt just a matter of people adjusting to
technology. Thats 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 peoples 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
- 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 its a long document
and a complex issue. Some time later, after the fact, it turns out
that there wasnt agreement; but the intra-spammer has
an easy answer: I told you, you didnt 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.
Its 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.
back to top
||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 years
greetings. With so many people sending pictures,
postcards and all sorts of attachments, its 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. Its
called feliz navidad. Sometimes the attachment
contains only an image like this.
Unfortunately you fell for the temptation and you
lost your computer. Luckily, in this case its only a
joke; the scary message is there, but there is no virus. But
more often navidad is a real virus. Of course it doesnt
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 years greetings (some are new; some
are older worms that have adopted a new appearance for the
occasion.) But, in any case, its 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.
back to top
||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
isnt new or surprising. And it helps to understand why the
number of internet users isnt growing as fast as
many sources estimate.
There has always been a fairly high dropout rate. And
its probably getting worse, because of too much
overpromising hype and too many disappointing offerings
Many newcomers are led by welcoming services
to places that they dont find interesting. They are told
that its easy to find what they want and of
course they are disappointed when they find that it isnt.
They are enticed to visit sites that dont 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.
back to top
||4. The forgotten millennium|
There isnt much to be said about the
millennium, except for the fact that its 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, its not completely solved; it could re-surface in
some systems twenty or thirty years from now).
The case of the forgotten millennium, of
course, isnt 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.
back to top
||4. The new economy grows old
Readers of this newsletter, and of other things on this
site, know that Ive 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.
Its 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 its 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. Theres only so fast we can go
without losing control. Its no harm to slow down a
Change is good was the wired generations
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. Its 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
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.
Lets 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?
Were still playing in the field of the future. If we give up
now we never deserved the rewards in the first place.
Thats 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)