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Friday, December 4. 2009
Internet businesses in the pre-internet era
How about Florist's Transworld Delivery - FTD? Isn't that a sort of business that was waiting a long time for the internet to appear?
(Wiki says: FTD was founded as Florists' Telegraph Delivery in 1910, to help customers send flowers remotely on the same day by using florists in the FTD network who are near the intended recipient. It originated as a retailers' cooperative and began a process of demutualization in 1994.)
FTD was recently bought by an internet company, United Online.
While many if not most businesses have benefited in one way or another by the internet, some businesses like FTD seem to have been made for it - just born too early.
Post your examples/ideas about pre-internet businesses, which in retrospect seem to have been designed for the internet, in our comments.
Posted by Bird Dog in Our Essays, The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 10:09 | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)
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I'd have to say that pron has made the most economic use of the nets.
Santay, dear ... It's a pron site for poor spellers.
MM - In proper leetspeek, it's "pr0n", with a zero. It's used so search engines won't spot the word "porn" on the site and take them out of the "family-friendly" searches.
BD - Flowers are a good example, but I'd put books and music CDs at the top of the list. Look at what it did to the industry. The music stores have all but vanished, and most of the mom 'n' pop book stores have long fallen by the wayside.
The interesting thing about DVD movies is that the Internet preceded them, so there was no such thing as a "DVD store" to be put out of business. If there had been, like the music stores, they would have been history.
I'd also put computer software on the list. There used to be a little computer store in every mall, but no longer. We have one local shop, and the guy said if it weren't for their service work, they'd be long gone. Unlike books and discs, the thing that's double-damning about software is that not only is it usually cheaper on the 'Net, but in most cases you can get it immediately with a download. Hard to beat that.
And I suppose just gifts, in general, go on the list. There used to be lots of little gift shops and boutiques around, but with a greater selection on the 'Net, why bother with the limited items on display at the store? I'm thinking in particular of specialty gifts, like the fabulous fruit baskets from Harry & David. I've been giving my mom a box of their scrumptious pears for Xmas for 20 years. It used to be a hassle to drive 15 miles, wait in line and all that. Now, it's just a click away. Again, hard to beat.
And you might put "small businesses" on the list, in the sense that in the Dark Days before the Internet, it took a seriously pricey Yellow Pages ad to get noticed. These days, you whip up a web site, toss it online and you're rolling.
What about the Sears and Monkey Wards catalog business of 100 years ago? Were they not doing the same thing with snail mail that Amazon does on the internet today?
Dr. Merc ... So that's what happened. I typed the word spelled correctly and when I checked the posting, it was spelled 'pron.' Talk about the power of the written word! I guess that when you don't have a silver bullet handy, or you can't make a cross with your hands online, this is the way one repels eevil.
How silly the world is ...
Without going into detail (that would cause me to get into trouble), I was very close to FTD and a number of flower companies early in the internet's development. Frankly, FTD dropped the ball, and badly. 800 Flowers was the early adopter and early winner.
I do agree that FTD was tailor made for the internet, but you couldn't tell them that, even at a point in time when FedEx was revolutionizing the net as a tool for shipping FedEx being a GREAT example of a good company designed for the internet.
I see everyone mentioning pr0n - and I don't believe there many examples of modern media that grew without the benefit of pr0n's role. It draws interest and money, and is almost always a rule breaker and innovator.
Personally, I believe the perfect business for the internet is the obvious one:
Long ago, I'd learned that we haven't lived so much through an Industrial Revolution as much as we have a Communications Revolution. Virtually every industrial breakthrough was a result of improved information processing, or required new ways to process information.
Looking at the internet and what it does provide today:
On demand video is now de rigeur for any website which hopes to maintain its place among the media elite.
In 1997, I had an interview at Yahoo. I was very confused about their business model. I told them (to the detriment of my being hired) that the long term success of Yahoo or ANY internet independent company would be tied to their ability to loop in with traditional media.
I was laughed out of the office and wound up working for their primary competitor for several years after.
Their primary competitor did exactly what I thought was correct - but in such a botched way it destroyed the company. Yahoo remained independent and succesful for many years.
Here we are 12 years later, however, and Yahoo is hanging on for its very life. Why? For the very reason I stated.
Traditional media has survived and for the most part thrived by adapting to the landscape.
The largest independent internet firm - Google - has adopted traditional media as its future (forays into radio and print were laughable, but the TV side is thriving).
Much is left to be done, however. But the best business for the internet will never be the one which was created prior to the internet.
It will be the one which is designed by someone who sees the interesting changes that the internet has provided, allowing them to take a business model in a whole new direction. Right now - I'd say that's iTunes.
Did the young lady with the Christmas tree also pose for FTD all those years ago?
I'll vote for Education. Due to circumstances, my grandson is home-schooled with access to way more information than his peers are getting at the bricks-'n-mortar place down the street. And I am on Rosetta Stone plus a few other independent studies made delightfully easy thanks to all the search engines.
My neighbor just took up knitting thanks to instructions on the Internet and meets weekly for face-to-face assistance.
Talk about Charter Schools...
I'd say Craigslist has effectively proved that the classified ad was made for teh Intarwebz. And it seems to embody the idea of "killer app" in reverse as the move to web-based classifieds has been killing newspapers which for so long banked on millions of cents-per-word little ads.
There's a book called "The Victorian Internet" about the social impact of the telegraph network. I excerpt one of the stories here.
Link to the "Victorian Internet" story...
Beginning in the late 1960s but mostly in 1970s and early 1980s, some companies began providing a direct electronic order entry capability to their business customers. Most famous of these was American Hospital Supply (now part of Baxter). The automotive aftermarket trade group, MEMA, pioneered electronic order interchange among multiple levels in that industry's distribution chain. These systems were implemented using dial-up, private networks, and/or value added networks descended from timesharing systems.
In the mid-1980s, there was considerable growth in the computer-to-computer interchange of orders, invoices, bills of lading, etc, using content formats standardized on an industry-wide basis...P&G and Wal-Mart were among the pioneers in this area, as were several automotive and heavy equipment companies, including Caterpillar. Some of these were done with direct connections, but most migrated to mailboxing services provided by several companeis, including Sterling (now part of AT&T) and General Electric Information Services (now spun off as GXS)
My top three:
FedEx: the ability to instantaneously order merchandise online is meaningless if order fulfillment takes 4-6 weeks. FedEx, basically without realizing it, put the necessary infrastructure in place for e-commerce to exist.
Dow-Jones: the company was based on the ability to gather and spread financial knowledge faster and more accurately than their competitors. Today's RSS feeds are just now starting to do for other information streams what the DJ stock ticker has been doing for decades.
NASDAQ: started the idea that you could conduct a complicated financial transaction without having the parties in the same room, let alone the same continent.