When my grandfather was born in 1919 in Santos, a small beach town in the state of São Paulo, the technology people used was simple. At that time, less than 10 percent of homes had access to phone lines. Electricity was the privilege of a few people due to its high cost. Radio and television were slowly introduced to the masses. The postal services would be the best option to keep people in touch despite its slowness.
Who would guess that, less than a century later, the world would become a global village, with millions of people communicating, meeting, doing business and shopping on the Internet? Certainly not grandpa!
It all started in the late 60s when the United States Department of Defense (DOD) created a computer networkthe ARPANETthat allowed people to communicate with each other from different locations. The United States DOD developed the Internet so that communications could still exist in the event of a nuclear disaster. By using existing phone lines, the system could send letters and memos electronically (e-mail). The service was initially used for posting information on computer bulletin boards, which were sites that listed information about particular topics, such as health issues, computer programs or employment services. The Internet was mainly used in universities and government research labs in the early stages.
The Net has now reached its commercial stage, which was a result of an effort by the National Science Foundation to innovate the system with high-speed communication equipment that linked computer centers throughout the United States. But it was only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the end of the 1980s that the military project came to an end.
Today, the use of the Internet goes beyond the military and national interest: people from all over the world are going online not only to get in touch with each other via e-mail, but also to shop, invest, research, chat, interact with other mass media, and even do business. Its electronic form is substituting the traditional "snail" mail. It's a way to save time and money whether one is simply replacing it for a long-distance or international phone call or doing business.
The Internet in Brazil
1988 marked the beginning of the Internet in Brazil. Together, the FAPESP (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa no Estado de São PauloFoundation for the Support of Research in the State of São Paulo) and the Secretaria Estadual de Ciência e Tecnologia (State Secretariat of Science and Technology) were the Brazilian pioneers in seeking access to the Web. Scientists from FAPESP emphasized the need to use the Internet to keep in touch with other scientific institutions abroad. Professor Oscar Sala, FAPESP's counselor at the time, started contacting the Physics and High Energy Laboratory in Chicago (Fermilab) to establish a connection between Brazil and the rest of the world. Flávio Fava de Moraes, then scientific director of FAPESP, approved the project, and a year later, the service was officially implemented.
In its first year, FAPESP utilized Bitnet (Because It' s Time to Network). Although Bitnet offered large Internet access, it only allowed access to archives and electronic mail. It was only in 1991 that an international line was connected to FAPESP. This development allowed access to educational and research institutions as well as to nonprofit and governmental organizations. Brazil could now participate in debates, access national and international supercomputers from other countries, and transfer archives and software. Since then, the speed of communication through the Internet between FAPESP and Fermilab increased from a very slow 4800 kilobytes per second to the present 2 megabytes per second.
During the following year, the IBASE (Instituto Brasileiro de Análises Sociais e EconômicasBrazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses) based in Rio de Janeiro and the APC (Associação para o Progresso das ComunicaçõesAssociation for the Progress of Communications) signed an agreement to give space to non-governmental organizations in Brazil on the World Wide Web. The agreement was altered in 1992 due to the creation of the RNP (Rede Nacional de PesquisaResearch National Network) by the Brazilian Department of Science and Technology. Now, RNP's coordinator Tadao Takahashi organized the access to the "information highway" creating a main branch of access to the Web and establishing it in many capitals and operating the Internet throughout the country.
In May of 1995, the Department of Communications and the Department of Science and Technology in Brazil published a decree creating private-access providers and, thus, allowing the commercial operation of the Internet in Brazil.
According to statistics from daily newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, an average of 250 thousand Internet servers were operating in Brazil in 1999, many of those were connected to hundreds of institutions. The number of addresses has been drastically increasing every month. From January of 1996 to August of 1997, 37,000 new Brazilian addresses appeared on the Internet.
The Brazilian Internet explosion was so fast that in only five years the Brazilians online outnumbered Mexican Internet users. By 1999, Brazil had the third highest number of Internet users in the Americas, only losing to the United States and Canada. Over 3 million Brazilians were connected to the Web through various access providers in 1999.
"This expansion is responsible for the creation of jobs in all regions of the country, including the North and Northeast areas," said National Secretary of Informatics, Ivan Moura, to O Estado de S. Paulo. The creation of jobs by the Internet comes pretty handy in a country that has a high unemployment rate due to an economic recession that has been, again, haunting Brazil in the last year.
The high demand for professionals in the technological, administrative and communication area generates a huge disparity in the market and, consequently, raise the salaries offered. This phenomenon is also responsible for a `variable wage', where promising Internet companies are more often offering bonuses and stocks as additional pay. The Internet has already created more than 300,000 jobs. Not much considering the size of the Brazilian market, but this number should double, according to experts, every six months in the next year and a half.
Free for All
Brazilians entered the year 2000 with much easier and free access to the Internet. During the third week of January, four providers (Zaz, Super11.net, NetGratuita and iG) started offering free access to the Web. During the first 15 days of activity, the two largest Internet providersiG and NetGratuita (a company from the UOL, Universo Online, Brazil's largest Internet group)together registered more than 1.5 million subscriptions, being 1.25 million from the São Paulo metropolitan area.
However, the paid competition has doubts about the fast development of a better infrastructure regarding phone services to meet such demand. UOL, BOL (Brazil Online), and NetGratuita have already experienced problems with slowness. Also, both paid and free providers have a common problem to face: the number of Internet users in Brazil is still relatively small, and its expansion depends solely on the drop in the prices of PCs and telephone services.
Many people may be asking themselves how these free-access providers intend to make any money. As in the United States they are betting that they will sell enough electronic advertisements, also known as banners, but in the meantime they will be operating in the red. The cost of advertising on the Internet is extremely low. A brand name Web page is more valuable than an extraordinary number of subscribers or visitors to the site.
The main concerns of advertisers are the size of their market that an ad can reach and the targeting of the site to their particular market. The bigger and better-established providers are the ones that can target and tailor the sites to meet the needs of advertisers. Smaller Internet providers may have revenue close to zero. So, the quality of the public accessing a homepage definitely exerts influence over advertisers. They want to make sure the ads target an audience that has an interest in their product or service on their favorite Web page.
But the problems in Brazil also came along with growth of the Internet Despite the positive aspects brought by the Net like greater job offer, faster communication and great research tool for example, it didn't take very long until the negative aspects of the Internet caught up with its success. The problem resides in the vulnerability of the information kept in the computers. The action of digital pirates, also known as hackers, is becoming an issue that makes many Brazilians think twice before shopping online.
Many people recently had their credit card number stolen after buying CDs at CD Universe, and many were forced to cancel and exchange their credit cards. Most companies doing business on the Web negotiate insurance for all security breaches, but some insurance companies' will not cover damages resulting from failure in the security systems.
The favorite Brazilian targets of digital pirates are the defense systems and banking services. These attacks happen more often than the Brazilian authorities want to acknowledge, with an average of 100 to 150 invasions a day according to financial consultants. "Only at Bradesco, the biggest private bank in the country, there's an estimated 70 frustrated cyber attacks every day," says Darlene Menconi from Isto É magazine, "but companies, especially banks, are always denying that theses attacks represent a serious fault in their security systems and credibility," says Menconi.
To address this problem, the Norton Internet Security 2000 was released in Brazil at the end of March. This security program released by Symantec was defined as a "bodyguard", and it is supposed to save and protect data such as credit card numbers, banking information, and other personal archives.
The Internet Security 2000 enables the Web site user to avoid attack by hackers with the Norton AntiVirus program. Other tools make it easier to preserve privacy by controlling the appearance of cookies (data used by Internet sites to identify users), publicity banners and other "pop-up windows" that appear while one surfs the Net. The program also works as an electronic sitter, restricting the access of kids to adult sites, sites with improper content, chat rooms and other areas according to the parents' needs.
Women and the Internet
Many newspapers and magazines in Brazil are offering supplements with information about the Internet so the public can keep up with the technology. Women encompass the fastest growing public surfing the Web. Data from Modem Media show that women account for 44 percent of Brazilian Internet users, and that motivates the creation of homepages that appeal to this particular public.
There are three major sites aimed at women and women's issues: Toque Feminino (Feminine Touch), Meu Corpo (It's My Body), and Ela (She). Toque Feminino offers interviews, recipes, and articles on fashion, family, beauty and health; Meu Corpo, a Johnson & Johnson site, is aimed at teenage girls, helping them to understand the transformations that occur in their bodies until they reach adulthood; and Ela targets modern women between 18 and 35 years of age with its content on fashion and economy.
As with most sites dedicated to women, bela.com.br also offers services and information on health, beauty, profession, fashion, and culinary. But the director wants to make sure his page reaches as wide an audience as possible by targeting women from 16 to 50 years old.
Other sites of great interest for the female public are those regarding motherhood, especially for first-time moms. First time mothers-to-be are using the Internet to ease the fear of inexperience. Some sites offer real instruction manuals, with electronic pages that allow mothers to follow every step of the pregnancy.
Pediatrician Marcus Renato de Carvalho talked about his own Web page (aleitamento.med.br), which emphasizes the importance of breast-feeding during the baby's first six months. Other more complex issues such as breast-feeding of twins and adopted children are discussed on this site as well.
Guiadobebe.com.br (the baby's guide) offers necessary orientation concerning the pregnancy with the first child, from the moment of conception to the first signs of laboring. Guia do Bebê answers the most common concerns to mothers regarding their children. Issues like hiccups, sneezes, stuffed nose, and cramps all common symptoms in the first months of the babies life that disappear with time are analyzed. Parents can also send cards to announce the birth of their baby from this site and interact with real doctors that are there to assist with any questions and concerns.
Other sites like babysite.com.br and febre.com.br (fever) have also had a very enthusiastic reception by the public. Baby site offers personalized vaccination cards, and parents can be reached via e-mail so they don't miss their children's upcoming immunizations. Sponsored by a fever-reducing medicine, febre.com.br teaches that a fever is usually ok and how to recognize when it puts the child's health at risk.
Shopping on Line
Because most women are also in charge of shopping for their household, they are the ones spending more reais online as well. They are buying books, toys, CDs and, lately, even their groceries on the Internet. Online shoppers however are not having first-class service when shopping during special occasions such as Christmas, Mothers' Day, and Children's Day. The volume of orders increases at those times of the year, and the consumer may not get the merchandise delivered on time.
Using credit cards when shopping on line continue to be a problem. According to Procon (an agency that works for the protection of the Brazilian consumer), that's not the safest way to pay for you purchase. They recommend that the Brazilian Internet shopper use a personal check to pay for the purchase at the time of the delivery.
Besides women, another section of the population that is increasingly taking advantage of the Net are those 50 years of age or older. An average of 550,000 Internet users are in this age range. To reach this market segment, maisde50.com.br (translated as "Over 50s") started in February 1999, being the first site aimed at this particular population. This site presents articles on tourism, leisure, health, fashion, behavior, and interviews with personalities in this age group. Interactive links such as chat rooms are also featured on the site, giving this more mature population a chance to exchange experiences, participate in sweepstakes, and even find a date! I better buy a PC for grandpa and tell him all about it so he can get plugged in too!
A Place for Education
Picture the students ranging from 1st grade to high school seniors in today's Internet world. Imagine the creativity required for giving excuses about their low grades or incompletion of assignments, when the Internet gives them no excuse. The Internet is the newest tool that aids students in having their questions regarding lectures, readings and homework answered. And that's also true in Brazil.
Klickeducacao.com.br has over 30 teachers working on duty. They are specialized in eight disciplinesPortuguese, Mathematics, History, Geography, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and English. There's no cost for consultation with those teachers and the site also offers other relevant information to students at any age (parents, teachers, principals and school counselors). It features 30,000 illustrations and images, interactive exercises, more than six thousand links, and access to online classes. The Web site creators designed this site to show students how to use the computer intelligently. Its design is to motivate students to do research on the Web and use their database.
Escolavirtual.com.br (Virtual School) is another Brazilian educational option on the Web. Created by Tema Informática, a company specialized in technological solutions for the educational market, the site is more restricted in regard to access. Students, parents, and instructors must be linked to any one of the 29 schools in Rio de Janeiro that are Tema customers. Tema director, José Carlos Lourenço Rego, says that Escola Virtual will present virtual courses such as Web designing and Excel. The courses will not be free, but registered students will have free e-mail accounts within the site.
Escola Virtual came to replace long distance education such as the traditional telecourse, and the site promises to be a revolution in education online. In Brazil as around the world people are realizing what a powerful tool the Internet can be. Besides being a rich source of information, a fast way to communicate with the world, facilitating business, giving the opportunity to go shopping without leaving the house, and being a form of entertainment, the net can also be means to public service. That's exactly what Anderson and Roseane Miranda from São José dos Campos are doing.
The couple created censura.com.br (meaning censorship), the first private site in the country to fight pedophilia in the Internet. It has already caught 13 Brazilian sites that were using the Web to sexually exploit children. They plan to broaden their campaign, and the goal is to get more supervision and support from Internet users and authorities. With an average of 30 denunciations a day, Roseanne says the reports are coming from all around the country.
They started a campaign against child pornography on the World Wide Web that has, so far, received 17,000 visitors and over 2000 reports against pedophilia. The Mirandas selected and checked the information before forwarding it to the Federal Police. Roseane, who is an attorney, has already asked public agencies to help in the fight against pedophilia on the Web but was never very successful. Her husband, Anderson, a computer science specialist, investigates sites that supposedly contain such material. He told Isto É magazine that he has been able to identify the authors, the origin of the material, and other information that can be used to punish the criminals. Once the site is identified, the Mirandas send a message to the author(s) making sure the legal consequences of such practice are very clear, in a tentative to convince the author(s) to remove the page form the Web.
For every six approaches there is one positive response and during the course of three months, the Mirandas saw 50 sites of this kind disappearing form the Web. With no more than four hours of daily work, the Mirandas also created the seal Amigo da Criança (Friend of the Children) as a way to stimulate companies that use the Internet for business purposes in participating in the action for the defense and rights of the children. And as of March 2000, 300 companies had already agreed to use the symbol of the campaign in their own homepages.
When vacation time is right around the corner, Brazilians want to do just that: take it easier, have fun, or go traveling. With that in mind, Decolar.com.br (meaning "taking off") suggest alternatives to visitors of their site. Users choose any place in the world, and the site will suggest several travel options. The site also helps with hotel reservations, flights, and ground transportation. It also has packages that include travel and lodging, giving important tips for those who don't know the bad aspects of a long trip like jet lag and indisposition that a cruise may cause.
If the vacationer lives in São Paulo and money limits the options of getting out of town, LevaEu.com.br takes people to interesting places close to the capital. LevaEu (which means "take me") presents great interactive opportunities for users. Here they can post or find tips about beautiful places they have been or want to go.
Those more adventurous can get great help from WebVenture (Webventure.com.br). The site presents guides and hints to adventurous trips inside and outside the country. Information regarding the necessary gear for each trip is discussed. The user can choose among trekking, off-road, rafting, biking, mountaineering, and activities that will put him or her close to mother nature.
And speaking of Mother Nature, to get a little closer to a natural environment, the best and most complete site on ecoturismo (ecological tourism) is Cia. Nacional de Ecoturismo. Other related links, like CampoBase (campobase.com.br) give the opportunity to the Internet user to shop around for lodging prices, camping sites, and even places for radical sports like mountain climbing, rafting and scuba-diving.
While packing for a vacation, Brazilians always end up running into stuff in their closets that they no longer use. Besides taking up space, it could be useful to someone else. Because garage sales are not part of the Brazilian culture, now people can exchange their stuff through the Web by just logging on to trocaqui.com.br (exchange here). People can place classifieds and check about exchanging their stuff. The objects are divided in 19 categories (from CDs to magazines, antiques, animals, and even cars) and are posted on the site for 15 days. All the services are free and to use them, the user just needs to get registered at the site.
If finding a car is the goal and the user lives in the Metropolitan area of São Paulo, the solution is to visit credicarro.com.br, from the company Financial Serviços Financeiros. Through this site, the shopper can finance and lease brand new or used vehicles. The site has both national and imported vehicles. All the bureaucratic process involving the purchase of a car can be dealt with online. The company will also be in charge of researching the conditions and taxes offered by banks to best suit the customers' financial expectations.
Since its official birth in Brazil in 1988, the Internet has been transforming the way Brazilians shop, do business, communicate, inform, educate ,and deal with public issues. Having all this information on the Webthings concerning education, information, shopping, tourism, medicine, public services and even problems with hackers and criminalsis a very positive thing for Brazil. It puts its people in touch with their own social problems and perspectives as well as with the rest of the world, opens their perspectives about life, and broadens their perceptions.
However, the cost of personal computers and the phone system in Brazil are still the main barriers preventing that more people can have access to the Internet. While they don't become more affordable, surfing the Web will continue to be a privilege of a minority.
For more information on the subject, please refer to the following sources:
· Campbell, Richard. Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication
(St. Martin's Press, New York, 1998).
· Estado de São Paulo, (http://www.oestado.com.br)
· Isto É magazine (http://www.istoe.com.br)
· Jornal do Brazil (http://www.jb.com.br)
· Globo Online (http://www.oglobo.com.br)
Daniela Rose is a graduated communications student from the University of Utah. She was born in Santos (SP) and moved to the United States four and a half years ago. She is a freelance writer and is currently living in Park City, Utah. You can get in touch with the author at firstname.lastname@example.org