'NetBuzz

FRAMINGHAM (09/19/2003) - Largely lost amid the jubilation generated by the federal government's "Do Not Call" list was what the thunderous stampede to embrace this telemarketing-control measure said about the maturation of the Internet. Morgan Stanley analysts Mary Meeker and Brian Pitz stepped up to correct that oversight last week in a report that found its way to my in-box.

The numbers boggle: Over the course of only two months, 48 million phone numbers - 27% of the nation's 177 million lines - were added to the database, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

But an even more astounding fact is that three of every four were signed up over the Web.

So Meeker and Pitz aren't endangering their literary license by suggesting this may well constitute "the biggest event in the history of the Internet."

"Taking a step back," they write, "a process of this magnitude, executed at rapid speed and low cost, was not possible prior to the widespread acceptance of the Internet. Bottom line, the deployment and acceptance/success of the Do Not Call Registry is . . . excellent evidence of the user/usage momentum the Internet has and is going to have in coming years.

"In effect, what would have been a cumbersome and expensive process just a few years ago was replaced by: creating a relatively simple Web site; driving traffic to the site with some crafty/inexpensive PR; in effect, outsourcing the heavy processing to inexpensive servers; and potentially creating a revenue stream for the government as solicitor violators are fined."

Need another piece of evidence that the 'Net is out of knickers? There's Howard Dean. A year ago there weren't six people outside Vermont who could pick the state's former governor out of a police lineup. Today he's the consensus frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination and sits atop a mountain of campaign contributions from tens of thousands of supporters, some of whom would no doubt have trouble finding Dean's home state on a map.

Without the 'Net, Dean would be practicing medicine right now.

In sum, the Internet has changed home life as we know it and altered the conventions by which the leader of the free world is chosen.

Yet naysayers still carp that it's overrated.

Talk about lost in the mail.

The first person who said "better late than never" was probably a journalist on the wrong side of deadline.

Late happens. But 34 days to answer an e-mail?

That's how long it took the spiffy new Web-based White House e-mail system to get back to me when I gave it a whirl in early August . . . and that's the good news.

If 34 days after receiving my e-mail the White House had issued a reply that somehow, some way addressed my point - or at least acknowledged the topic of my correspondence - I might grant the White House IT folks that standard journalists' absolution: better late than never. Same, too, if the response merely had confirmed receipt of my missive and told me that any more meaningful reply is beyond the overwhelmed system's capability.

Neither was the case. My comment was about the White House e-mail form itself, and the reply was simply a boilerplate document detailing the president's commitment to sound . . . energy policies? (Reminds me of a favorite riddle from childhood: What's the difference between an orange? ... A T-shirt because a motorcycle doesn't have any doors.)

The lesson here is if you can't provide a meaningful answer in a timely fashion - even if it has to be a meaningful automated answer - don't create the expectation of one . . . and seriously consider whether you should be inviting e-mail.

"Never" would have been the better option here.

Messages to buzz@nww.com are always read and almost always get a reply.

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