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Flashback from 1995: Newsweek on Why No One Will Buy Things on the Internet

If this Newsweek essay written in 1995 by Clifford Stoll was to be believed, we’d be in a somewhat different place today.

We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

Flash forward to the present day; many large retail stores have been gutted of their staffs as a cost-saving measure, in part due to online competition.

Even more amusing is Stoll’s frustration with search; Stoll makes a whopper of a logical error when he assumes that the state of search technology with which he’s familiar is a fundamental property of the Internet, but he provides a handy snapshot of just how bad it was in 1995.

What the Internet hucksters won’t tell you is tht the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data. You don’t know what to ignore and what’s worth reading. Logged onto the World Wide Web, I hunt for the date of the Battle of Trafalgar. Hundreds of files show up, and it takes 15 minutes to unravel them—one’s a biography written by an eighth grader, the second is a computer game that doesn’t work and the third is an image of a London monument. None answers my question, and my search is periodically interrupted by messages like, “Too many connections, try again later.”

The article currently has about 3,000 Facebook recommendations on Newsweek.com, by the way.

(Newsweek via Nick Douglas)

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