Offline A pause in navigation


Health and diseases
of the internet

December 2002

disponibile anche in italiano

  Giancarlo Livraghi
For other comments on internet marketing
see the Netmarketing online newsletter




We are at the end of another year in which there has been more discussion of net failure than of its success. To a large extent, it’s nonsense. There is no “internet crisis”. Some of the financial and mismanagement “bubbles” have deflated (there will be more) and many poorly conceived online activities are in trouble. But that has nothing to do with the basic strength and continuing growth of the internet.

On the other hand, from a different perspective, there are diseases for which an effective treatment is still to be found.

Statistics can be unreliable and confusing, but some trends are pretty clear. Worldwide hostcount data show somewhat slower growth in 2002 than in past years. Expansion never was “exponential” – and we may be going through a more sober phase. The latest available indicator – 16 percent growth in year 2002 – is the lowest percentage in the net’s history, but it can’t be called “slow” by any standard. It’s still much faster than the economy as a whole – and of most other development factors.

In some areas, growth is much faster than average. For instance Italy, three years ago, was and online “underdog” compared to most of the European Union. Now it’s moving ahead. And so are other countries. (See European data.)

Statistics about internet “users” are, as always, unreliable. However it seems clear that, in several places, the number of people online has been growing more slowly in 2001 and 2002 (see “user” data on Italy and some other countries.)  Such trend variations are to be expected in any evolutionarydevelopment. We are not getting near any “threshold” and there is still considerable room for expansion.

The internet, as a whole, is here to stay – and in fairly good health. But there are problems that aren’t just “growing pains”. They are vicious, contagious diseases – and they are getting worse. The most obvious, at this time, is spam (a whole issue of the Netmarketing newsletter concentrates on this subject.)

In some international discussion groups this is seen as a catastrophe. Are we really risking “death by spam” – as many are saying? Is this cancer, or an incurable infection? That’s unlikely. But it would be silly to underestimate the problem. The expansion of the disease was identified too late. We still lack a clear diagnosis and no really effective treatment has been found.

Spam has been known and quite clearly defined for twenty years. But only recently it expanded to unbearable proportions. The net’s immune system is reacting, but it heeds some help to be more effective.

While spam is infecting mostly e-mail, there are vicious diseases also in other parts of the internet – such as the world wide web. Centralization pressures, a variety of invasive devices, sites crammed with traps and de-routing tricks, etcetera.

I don’t agree with those critics who think that commerce, per se, is a disease. There is, and there must be, appropriate room online for business and trade. If properly managed, they can contribute to the usefulness and content value. But the business world hasn’t yet fully understood how seriously the spam disease is infecting the marketplace.

Spam, invasive techniques, oniline traps, etcetera, are poisoning the environment. Crooks and swindlers are multiplying. That is very harmful for e-business – as well as polluting the culture, the network of human relationships, that is the necessary soil for the growth of any healthy and durable business venture.

The net can be a valuable tool to move out of the economic and cultural doldrums. But it’s important and urgent to free it from spamming and other diseases. There is, at last, increasing awareness of the problem. Now we need a solution.


Gandalf homepage