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Why the Internet Will Fail (from 1995)

Back in 1995, Clifford Stoll, PhD wrote an article for Newsweek about a emerging thing called the internet.  According to him, it was going to go nowhere.  It's almost humorous how wrong he was.

Then there’s cyberbusiness. 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 obsolete. 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.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/106554/page/1 - via allthingsmundane

From the Upcoming ueue, submitted by sish2000.


It's easy to see that Stoll missed the boat on a lot of things, but take a look at his last paragraph. I think it's as true now as it was then:

"What's missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another."
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"director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure."

He was half right about newspapers. People do read newspapers straight over the internet, they aren't paying for them though.
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No human contact? The internet has reintroduced me to old friends, allowed contact with distant relatives, and meeting a host of interesting "Cyber-acquaintances", some of whom have become real-life friends.

As for the salespeople, I'd rather click and order than have to deal with a surly teen picking at the nest of blackheads on his nose-tip any day.
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Bryan - one of the things I like most about shopping on the internet is the lack of human contact. No one trying to shove their sales targets in my face all the time. No spotty herbert pretending he knows what he's talking about, no one trying to sell me breakdown cover on something that should last for years.

I want a product, I go order it and it arrives.
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I think Stoll was right to bemoan the things that the internet lacked at the time. But since then, smart folks took a look, found a need, and filled it. Many made a ton of money doing it! Think Amazon, PayPal, Wikipedia, Snopes, YouTube, Google, Facebook, all of them provided something the internet needed.
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I second Skipweasel. Lack of salesmen is exactly why the internet DID succeed as a medium for commerce. Human contact is fine... with the people you want it from. Salespeople want something from you, though, and someone going through all the motions of being (or pretending to be) your friend strictly to get money from you (money via the sale) is a little creepy.

I remember reading this when it was released and it struck me that Stoll's sole interactions with other human beings must have only been with salespeople.
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Things change day by day. The speaker in the article has informed that the internet would take us no where as they are just a flow of data all around the world but these flow of data help to us get a lot of information around the world.
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It's embarrassing to admit this but back in 95 I declared that the Internet was a fad and didn't see it going very far.

I eat those words every day due in part that I have made a great and rewarding career as a Web Applications Developer for the past 13+ years.

Doh!
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Out of everyone here, Chad has the most valid point. Some of the first pictures sent over the internet were of a sexy nature, and that was in the air force. My brother actually has a saying that if you want to be on the cusp of technology, see what the porn companies are using. That's generally the way that techs go because of all of the money in porn.
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Yeah, Chad hit the nail right on. Nothing makes more money the products/services that cater to vices, especially those that can be provided in the privacy of one’s own home. Porn, online gambling and computer games bring in huge amounts of money, but booze stores/bars are still favoured over internet sales, but still is additional income for the companies.
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@Wesley. Ha! That's awesome. Even more awesome than you having turned the internet into something lucrative is the fact that you haven't conveniently forgotten your negative prediction. I myself remember complaining in '95 that the internet had become boring, that after a couple years it seemed two-dimensional, and that I was excited for developers to "take it to the next level." Of course I couldn't imagine what that would be - Megavideo, Facebook, Youtube, Google Earth etc. What struck me most about that conversation was that the people I was with just stared at me and said, "Really? I think it's fine just the way it is."
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I think it's the height of irony that his book on this subject is available online.

@Ben Eshbach

If one's goal was to research the failings of commerce on the internet in 1995, I would agree with your first post. I believe the author made some valid points to that end. However, while additional meaning can be drawn from this article, I think interpreting it that way exclusively would undermine its original intent and message.

The author is clearly attempting to repudiate predictions about the future of the internet. He argues why the internet will fail as a tool for commerce, news, etc.

Unfortunately, he chose to operate under the assumption that technological solutions in these areas would not be forthcoming and that the internet would remain little more than a gigantic chat room.

Indeed, if his intention was to claim that the internet is (in 1995) a failure, he did little to define exactly what it's failing at. Similarly, if his intention was to describe "why the internet is a failure," he would have done better to contrast his main points against something other than visionaries' predictions of what might be. (Unless, of course, his intended message was that the internet is a failure at meeting its potential...but that's obviously not the case).
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Goodness, if someone were to read my last post, they might think I actually took this article seriously! I've been known to spend disgustingly large amounts of thought on the most trivial subjects. Huzzah!

Cheers all
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We should email him about this. >:-)

and I HATE salespeople! They make me less likely to buy things.

I think 'smallerdemon' poster is right on the money with his/her comment:

"I remember reading this when it was released and it struck me that Stoll's sole interactions with other human beings must have only been with salespeople."
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@Natey, I see your point. You're right. I watched Stoll's TED lecture (recommended by Padraig above.) Stoll still objects to computers in classrooms, and his general tone is that something that replaces non-virtual, face-to-face interaction is bad (the "failure"). But I think you're right that in this article he does make descriptive predictions that were just wrong.
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