Should an ebusiness venture start with a great idea
The big picture
To understand and appreciate the kind of instabilities that are needed to be recognised, we need to look at the big picture, beginning with an idea of the size of the Internet and the Web. Several Web sites have been set up to record current statistics, but, for our purposes here, there are two Web sites in particular that between them give some idea of the size, scope and complexity of the e-business environment.
The first of these sites was set up for The Censorware Project (http://censorware.org/web_size/). Michael Sims' essay on this site lucidly explains the impossibility of the task faced by any organisation trying to censure the Web's content. He points out that a scientific article in 1997 had estimated the size of the Web as being somewhere around 320 million pages. By February 1999, he notes, the well respected magazine NATURE had estimated the size of the Web as being 800 million pages, with 15 trillion bytes of textual information together with 180 million images using a further 3 trillion bytes of Web space. These figures covered only the publicly available Web sites that were readily available through search engines. It did not include the vast amounts of data available within Intranets and other private Internet domains.
Sims then displays within the body of the essay a continuously updating number of statistics that shows the current estimate of the size of the Web, which, on 9th February 2000 were as follows:
30,200,000,000,000 bytes of text;
363,000,000 images; and
6,050,000,000,000 bytes of image data.
In just the last 24 hours, the web has added:
3,280,000 new pages;
61,400,000,000 new bytes of text;
737,000 new images; and
12,300,000,000 new bytes of image data.
In his essay, Sims points out the rapid expansion of the Web revealed by these figures. By some estimates, he tells us, the Web is doubling in size every year (it might be an interesting exercise for the reader to visit this site at the time of reading to see how much it has changed since 9th February 2000).
Despite the claims of some Web search engines to be able to satisfactorily cover the Web, Sims explains the practical impossibility of such a task. He quotes the reputable Web search engine company Alexa's assessment, that the average life of a Web page is only 44 days. From this he deduces that every day 36,700,000 pages and 8,250,000 images are changed. Just looking at these would require downloading nearly a trillion bytes a day and that's if you could find the one's that have changed.
Even the most efficient and powerful of search engines cover only around twenty percent of Web pages and their ability to keep up with page changes is perfunctory to say the least. It is into this environment that a business or a personal Web site is placed.
The exact figures are irrelevant; it is the sheer scale of the Web that is remarkable. The size is unimaginable, yet, despite this, many people treat their Web site as advertising billboards or even more naively as broadcasting stations.
Common sense tells us that any Web site put into this environment cannot rely on any kind of casual browsing. Any visitors to a site will have to be specifically routed there by one means or another. With such a vast number of pages competing with each other for eyeballs, those who succeed will need an exceptional strategy and this must involve specifically communicating with visitors before their visits.
The second of the Web sites I'm using to provide a snapshot of the big picture is that of Nua Ltd (http://www.nua.ie/surveys/how_many_online/index.html). Nua Limited was officially formed in September 1995 by three people, Niall O'Sullivan, Antóin Ó Lachtnáin and Gerry McGovern. Together with its sister company, Local Ireland - an Irish Portal for everything Irish, Nua employs (as at February 2000) upwards of 100 people. In 1999, FORTUNE magazine rated Nua among the top 10 Internet strategy companies in the world, while in the same year, Nua founder and CEO, Gerry McGovern, released a major book on the Internet entitled, The Caring Economy. Nua gained world wide prominence though sending out a regular newsletter - in February 2000, going to 200,000 subscribers - which summarised various important trends and statistics relating to the evolving Internet and Web.
In February 2000, Nua put these statistics of the number of Internet users on its Web site:
World Total 275.54 million
Africa 2.46 million
Asia/Pacific 54.90 million
Europe 71.99 million
Middle East 1.29 million
Canada & USA 136.06 million
South America 8.79 million
Whether these figures are accurate or not (and they are likely to be quite different by the time you read this book) is not a critical issue. What they do though is give some rough idea of the order of magnitude of the number of people who are accessing the Web.
With statistics like these, it is very tempting to just skip over them and not bother to wait for the significance to sink in. After all, ever since early school days we've been exposed to population counts of one type or another and they never seem to make any significant difference to our lives. This time it is different though: because all of these people you can instantly be in direct contact with, at any time. The people in this particular population are as intimately connected to you and each other as if you were all next door neighbours.
It is hard to imagine having a house next door where you can see and talk to several hundred million people, but, this is one of the stark realities of the Internet, which is why the full potential hasn't even begun to be realised.
At first thoughts, you might scoff at this simile because you cannot see the other hundreds of millions of people on the Internet. Surely, it would seem, this situation is not very different from the situation we have already with the telephone. The telephone has been universally in existence for many decades and you might think the Internet provides little improvement on this: it is still the same kind of mass connectivity via a telephone connection
But, it is different: very different. People cannot congregate into groups by means of the telephone, they cannot easily form special interest forums or bounce ideas around within a peer group on the telephone in the same way that they can in Internet discussion forums. The telephone doesn't make it possible to instantly obtain a wide variety of feed-back on ideas, or, provide a mass concentration of experts always on hand to help you with your problem solving. This is the difference and the power of the Internet. The Internet gives everyone immediate access to an unlimited number of useful people.
The overwhelming advantage of the Internet over the telephone is that you can so easily join groups and make friends with strangers. You can join in a group discussion or listen anonymously in the background. You can ask questions and test your own knowledge by answering the questions of others. In this way the Internet becomes a place where you have a chance to meet like minds and together join forces to help each other to learn and progress.
This is not just some Utopium dream of mutual altruism; this is actually happening now - and in a massive way. The people who are in these communication groups and forums are enjoying a tremendous advantage over those who aren't - and it is very hard for those who are not connected to the Internet to realise this.