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and opportunities

March 2002

disponibile anche in italiano

  Giancarlo Livraghi
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Since mainstream media started fussing about the internet, seven or eight years ago, there have been alternating phases of hype and hangover. Now the two trends are mingled, in a schizophrenic mixture of “e-xaggerated” enthusiasm about often irrelevant “miracles” and equally inflated stories of dangers and catastrophes. That doesn’t help anyone to understand what is really going on – and of course it’s a very poor base for the development of effective strategies.

In the same issue of the magazine where this article appeared in print I published a summary of some trend analyses – worldwide, in Europe and in Italy – that can be found in the data section of this site. Statistics are ofren unreliable – and numbers, per se, don’t mean much. But when trends are analyzed and compared they can be quite useful. Looking at some simple facts can help to have a clearer mind.

The soothsayers of doom, who can’t tell the difference between the stock exchange bubble and the internet, are wrong. The net is growing, developing, expanding and evolving as strongly as ever. And that has nothing to do with the “broadband fiasco”, because the development of the internet is based on content, dialogue, people interacting with each other, etc. – not bandwidth (of which we have more than we need if we know how to stay away from useless clutter).

On the other hand, not everything is growing as fast as the hype suggests. For instance, the number of people online in Italy had slower growth in 2001 than in previous years. That is, in part, a self-fulfilling prophecy (people read about “new economy” failures and are led to believe that the internet doesn’t work) but is also a result of hype (overpromises lead to disappointment.)  There are indications that the same sort of thing is happening in other countries.

There is news that has nothing to do with the internet but helps to understand the real reasons behind the stock exchange flutters. The Enron mess is only one of many. And proves, once again, that the problem isn’t only in the so-called “new economy.”  It isn’t even “new” (see Robber Barons.)

There are confusing reports, as always, about. “electronic commerce”. In year 2001 there was less hype about fantastic expectations for Christmas sales. But, after the fact, there were contradictory reports. 15 percent growth, compared to a year earlier, isn’t much – but it’s not discouraging. Some reported it as a monumental success, others as a catastrophe. Schizophrenia, again. It’s a bit more interesting to look into what people bought online. Software, hardware, books (with Amazon, of course, leading.)  The same as three or four years earlier. What’s missing is something new and interesting in e-commerce.

A year ago, sometimes, I used to say: «if you must copy someone, copy Amazon or Google.»  But imitation isn’t a good strategy. We should learn from other people’s experience (form their mistakes as much as from their good ideas) and try to do better. The strength in the internet is diversity. The more we concentrate on what we know, and we can do, better than anyone else, the more successful we shall be (and the harder it will be for others to imitate us.)  And if so many others are plagued with schizophrenia or cowardly imitation, there are even greater opportunities for clear-minded, unique and consistent strategies.


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