3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

July 15, 2001 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on July 15, 2001.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us


France & the Internet, 2001


Internet Domain Survey, total number of hosts -- an update --


-- so, much accomplished... but then there's also --


-- so, much still to be done...

(numbers from Network Wizards, http://www.nw.com, see note below)


Some random thoughts about emerging Internet statistics --

In the US, the Internet is going through its "commercial applications" shakeout -- and to some extent shakedown -- now. Internet "dotcom" companies with poor business plans, no business plans, inexperienced management, insufficient funding (yes there even were a few of those, hard though that was to imagine only a few years ago), all are foundering or already have gone under.

"Pets.com", "Furniture.com", "Webvan", any number of ecommerce "BtoB" and "BtoC" and "B - to - other - things" services all are gone, now. It may be some time before a company like IBM proclaims "IBM.COM" again, as that firm did on the cover of a recent corporate annual report.

How has the Internet been faring elsewhere, outside the US -- in France, for example?

It is useful to remember that not all of the Internet is ".com". In the US, the commercial applications proportion may be high, but then "the business of America is business": not so, perhaps, in old - fashioned, fuddy - duddy, socialistic and paternalistic and centralized and hopelessly - bureaucratic France -- which in all these respects in fact is so much more typical of the rest of the world than is the very a - typical and eccentric US.

There are, after all, plenty of non - commercial, ".edu" / ".org" / ".gov", non - profit - minded, users and applications and developers and resources on the Internet -- always have been, since long before the heady days of 1992-3 when the old "no commercial use" policies suddenly began to disappear, lifting from the Internet world mysteriously, like some dissipating fog.

Back then -- not even a decade ago, yet -- the only authorized users were non - profits. If France, and other "foreign" places, are more like this original model, still, then perhaps their Internet versions are being spared whatever carnage is occurring in the US now, as the commercial dotcom world implodes?

The funding and administrative models also are very different, comparing the US to France and other foreigners -- perhaps as different as are the various attitudes toward commercial applications and toward commercial activity generally. The funding sources and bureaucracy level provided to a US startup are barely imaginable, are even nightmarish, to a French capitalist or a Chinese entrepreneur. The idea of private "angel" investor groups is as hard to fathom, to an investor in Shanghai, as the idea of getting venture capital money from the slush fund at the local army base might be to a consortium in Cupertino.

So perhaps some aspects of the non - US Internet are not being changed, so radically, by the dotcom troubles which currently are rocking the Internet in the US itself. Non - commercial applications, funding and administration: these and other aspects of the Internet's growth and development may be insulated, somewhat, from the current free market machinations of the US commercial services by things being "different" overseas.

Still, though, the Internet, simply by virtue of its being interconnected and "global" and therefore globally - interdependent, is that much _less_ insulated from local US events than any sort of homegrown national system such as the French Minitel might be. Network effects and externalities tie the Internet in China to events in Cupertino, and Wall Street, as the Minitel might not be so tied: in global interconnectedness as in investing, "what is leveraged up", perhaps to escape national boundaries, "also is leveraged down", when it might want to hide behind those same national boundaries for protection.

And still, as well, a great deal of the innovation which has contributed so much to the development of the Internet has come from its commercial sector. The saying is, in "Research & Development", that "private corporations never do 'R', they only do 'D'". But there has been much "D" in taking the academic testbed Internet of 1992 from its 700+ thousand hosts, back then, to its 100+ million hosts today.

Smug researchers may claim that the commercial world's Internet currently in use is drastically outmoded, from a technical point of view: too slow, too crowded, still using simplistic and now antiquated techniques like "HTML" and "ASCII" when much better has long been available -- XML, VRML, Unicode, Internet II (aka "son of Internet" aka "Grendl"), all the way to the "petaflops of HTMT / Hybrid Technology Multi - Threaded Architecture hypercomputers" which inter alia just link together the excess capacities of all of the computers on the Internet, everywhere, to form one giant parallel processing machine (see this month's Scientific American, July 2001)...

But while the current commercial Internet may not be as "deep", yet, as some of its academic and other research developers would like it to be, it certainly is far more "broad", already, than any of them ever dreamed it might one day become: more hosts, more users, more applications, more network effects and externalities, more financial and political and cultural clout, now everywhere on the planet.

This breadth has been due to the uncontrolled, uncontrollable, and chaotic and wasteful and democratic / oligopolistic / monopolistic (somehow and ironically all three at once) and mostly US - based commercial US Internet -- the one that spread HTML and the "personal" computer all over, the one which created "lowest common denominator" applications like Yahoo! and WebLouvre and AOL and "Infotainment", the one which engendered the dotcom bubble, which just has burst.

If the bubble really has popped, will all that innovation now simply go away?: not the "R / Research" innovation, which invented the technical aspects of the Internet, but the "D / Development" innovation which marketed it and spread it all over the globe, made it cost effective and a household word, and endowed it with its enormous financial and political and cultural power?

More realistically, perhaps, how is that "D / Development" innovation going to change, now, if and to the extent that it no longer will be in the hands of venture capital - funded "dotcom" startup cowboys -- average age 23, baseball - cap - on - backwards, swimming in Jolt Cola and video games, experienced at nothing and afraid of less?

If Internet "D / Development" is being transferred, now, as many in the US financial community increasingly believe, from those quirky pioneers to mainstream American industry -- to Disney and 3M and Exxon and Enron and Wal-Mart and General Motors, instead of Yahoo! -- won't this make some considerable difference in the direction of Internet "D / Development", going forward?

It appears that it will in the US, at least: we are headed here towards "Infotainment", with a vengeance, at least dwarfing if not entirely obliterating all the rest.

But how will this play out overseas, where the commercial presence in online digital information has been, until now at least, arguably less strong?

In France, the national government has led the way. National policies and money, nationalized firms, and nationally - supported universities and libraries, have been the primary instruments of the development of Internet "breadth" -- the "D / Development" aspect of the Internet's growth -- at least in enabling and controlling and channeling its explosive increases, insofar as that growth, like the "depth" technical processes themselves, in largest part came flooding into France "over the wires" from Cupertino.

This has been largely the model elsewhere as well, overseas: in Singapore, in China, in Vietnam and Germany and various other places where the non - US Internet has been growing so wildly -- for various reasons in each locality, government rather than the commercial sector has been the primary facilitator of that growth.

So now, if the US growth engine does change fundamentally -- from those inexperienced 20 - something "Yahoos" backed by little groups of venture capital "cowboys", to some of the most entrenched and powerful economic players on the planet -- from KleinerPerkins to Citigroup, which now is at $68b annual revenues and is one of the world's largest MoneyCenter banks -- how are the overseas Internet developers going to handle _that_?

I don't know, myself -- I wish I did -- although I am beginning to have some guesses. I _do_ know for sure that US corporate culture has been driving Internet "D / Development" innovation, and that this culture will be very different if it really transfers, now, from its "New Economy / Jerry & David & Yahoo!" approach to its "Old Economy / Sandy Weill's Citigroup" incarnation. Michael Eisner at Disney just does not do things the way "Webvan" did. And the successful hybrids of "New Economy" and "Old Economy", such as AOL Time Warner (imagine, CNN Global now is "an AOL company"!) -- well, these successful meldings are rare exceptions, as are the few entirely "New Economy" business models which so far appear to be succeeding, such as Amazon and EBay.

So it looks like the Good Old Boys are back: Disney, and IBM, and 3M, and the oil companies and the drug companies and the banks... new "Captains and Kings", alors... or maybe these are just The Old Gods, resurgent, the ones who used to eat their children... Internet globalization ain't seen nothin' yet... the foreigners, and the rest of us, may not know how easy we've been having it...

But have a nice summer anyway -- in spite of / because of various new things to ponder -- until the rentrée --


Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

* Note: Choose your favorite Internet "metric" -- there are so many -- even those of Network Wizards, shown here, are subject to endless qualifications as to survey method, definitions, interpretations, etc. (all best supplied by Network Wizards themselves, URL above, or by their many admirers and critics).

I myself have found the Network Wizards figures to be among the most reliable, at least because of that firm's longevity. In an increasingly - commercial "information space", increasingly populated with exaggerated claims for "household penetration" and "number of users" and "pageviews" and so on, it is reassuring to be able rely on consistent and long - standing good work. Network Wizards' first survey, conducted in August of 1981, nostalgically recites "213" total hosts: that was all of the Internet, back then, in the whole world...

n.b. a "host", for Network Wizards, is,

-- and nevermind that numbers of Ouebbesites "in France" now call themselves ".com" -- in The Matrix, all borders are only Virtual -- or that plenty of ".edu" sites are dirtying their digits now in the commercial world, or that soon we are to have the even more misleading and even less statistically - informative ".love" and ".hola" and ".gmbh" and ".xxx"...

The statistics are presented here for comparative purposes only -- for comparing France to France, current versus past performance, and France to its most similar neighbors -- and not for any attempt to quantify the (still) unquantifiable Internet.




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Last update: July 15, 2001