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needs to grow up

June 2000

disponibile anche in italiano

  Giancarlo Livraghi
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As usual, nobody really knows how many people are on the internet – in Italy as everywhere else. But one thing is clear. The number has increased considerably end is continuing to grow. The net isn’t yet "for everybody" but it’s no longer a restricted privilege. Some research results indicate that half of the people in our country have no plans to ever use the net. But many of them will change their minds – and in the meantime the other half of the adult population, either already connected or willing to come online in a year or two, is over 20 million people. That is not an unreasonable projection; and it’s pretty big.

So Italy hasn’t become a leader on the net but it’s no longer the underdog or the cinderella. We are still far away from the levels of Northern Europe, but that’s the way we are going. We can stop worrying about how many people are online and concentrate on who they are and what they want.

The other day I was discussing this with a friend. Sofia Postai is one of the best experts in Italy in online communication and web usability. I said that the internet is still in its infancy; a bright, lively, promising child... but it’s too soon to understand how it’s going to grow up. Sofia said that we could also think of it as adolescent. It has the tantrums and the uneven growth patterns of an early teenager. Sudden passions, quickly abandoned; unbalance, discontinuity, unpredictable changes of mood and interest. And pimples – such as the recurring syndrome of technical fashions that may not be the plague but aren’t doing any more good than acne.

I guess both metaphors can work. Worldwide; and more so in countries, such as Italy, where we are trying to catch up and everything is even more turbulent and confused. The problem is what to do in an environment that has no stabilized pattern and can change quite unpredictably.

In the meantime... something has been rather abruptly shifted from hyper-fashion to the role of Cinderella. That is "electronic commerce". Analysts that two years ago were predicting fantastic growth for online business now have became the prophets of doom. They produce long lists of bankruptcies and enterprises in trouble, as well as fluctuating share prices, and feed the uneasiness of companies than never really knew how to come to grips with the new opportunities – and now are even more confused and discouraged. Of course the prophets were wrong when they predicted impossible results, and they are wrong again now with their gloomy projections. The truth is somewhere else.

In Italy (as in several other places) the market for online sales is tiny – and not growing. Not for lack of potential customers, but for the poor quality of the offering. Anyone looking at the market carefully has known this for years. The only news is that the problem is becoming more visible.

When a "crisis" is announced the solution may be getting closer. That happens quite often, but not always. Let’s hope that this is the case for e-business. Young Cinderella is quite cute; she will grow to become a very attractive woman. She shouldn’t worry about her rich stepsisters, and she shouldn’t fall too easily for the many false princes that don’t have the slipper that fits her foot – nor the greedy go-betweens that want to set her up with some hasty suitor. She shouldn’t pay too much attention to the balls an dances and fashions, or the witches with phony gold-plated wands – or even well-meaning fairies whose magic ends at midnight. She’s a born winner, but she needs time to grow up.

Her life isn’t a fairy tale. She shouldn’t waste too much time on the glitter and the hype. Se should concentrate on who she is, and what she can grow to be. It takes a while... but it’s worth it. Probably her real partners, friends and lovers, who will make her happy and rich, aren’t any of those shiny dummies walking around in expensive prince disguises.

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