The Origins of E-Commerce


What is the Internet?

In order to provide a discussion on the Internet it is essential to provide a short description on what the Internet actually is. Put in the most basic of terms the Internet can be described of as a massive collection of computers that are sited around the world and that are connected together in order to create a huge network that allows information to be collated and shared by millions of people.

Origins of the Internet

This article is largely built around e-commerce and the way in which technology is transforming the world of retail. The question is therefore raised as to what has made e-commerce the way we know it today? In order to answer this question it is a necessity to discuss the origins of the Internet.

In 1969 the U.S. government undertook an experiment today known to people all around the world as the 'Internet'. The purpose of this experiment was to create a way of preserving communications in the event of a nuclear war. Through the collaboration of ARPA (Advanced Research Project Agency) and some academic institutions involved in joint research on defence technologies via interconnected networks ARPANET the earliest version of the Internet was created.

As time passed the popularity of the Internet grew and what was originally a network of a small handful of computers in the United States was now a growing phenomenon amongst educational establishments and enterprising entrepreneurs who were beginning to see the potential in selling Internet access into peoples homes.

In the 1980's the UK and Europe realised the potential of the Internet just has the USA previously had. In 1980, NSF (National Science Foundation), the body which took an active role to support ARPANET created an academic network called CSNET which enabled the computer science departments of some universities to be connected.

At the start CSNET used a backbone, which was supported by NSF, but in the early 1990's, it established the Internet with TCP/IP with the support of the country's major networking companies.

Even though the Internet clearly existed since the 1980's it was not until the early 1990's that the corporate world were able to make use of it instead of just the academic community and government sponsored organisations. This limited use was due to the 'user unfriendly' nature of the system, which led to the need for an interface to be designed to make the Internet easier to use. This interface is what is now known as the WWW (world wide web).

The World Wide Web (WWW)

In 1993 a researcher called Tim Berners-Lee with the aim of making the Internet a user-friendly environment introduced the WWW. Designers had the task of designing and formatting web pages with the use of HTTP (Hypertext Transport Protocol) and HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) to link documents together electronically. This new technology enabled a world wide web of information to be provided.

However real usability came shortly after the introduction of the WWW when in 1993 a team led by Marc Anderson at the University of Illinois developed a browser called Mosaic which was a graphical user interface for the Internet to facilitate point and click navigation, more commonly referred to as browsing. N.Bandyo-padhyay cites Reid (1997) who states that by July 1996, 150,000 server computers were 'web-enabled'. In 1994, the same team developed Netscape, which is today the most commonly used browser. Netscape was equipped with a search engine to type keywords into and was created using advanced HTTP.

Being able to perform keyword searches was a huge factor in the increased popularity of the Internet. Other browsers such as Internet Explorer by Microsoft soon followed and shortly after that several websites dedicated to producing keyword searches such as Yahoo and Lycos appeared. These are today known more popularly as search engines.

The WWW also contributed to providing increased levels of security on the Internet by encrypting the messages that moved between servers. Security on the Internet is today a huge cause of debate.

The Internet Revolution

The increased popularity of the Internet brought about the realisation that almost unlimited amounts of information on any topic would be made available and at little cost and improved convenience. In fact the Internet brought about endless opportunities to exploit enhanced communication techniques in a variety of ways.

It was made possible for people to communicate with family and relatives who lived on the other side of the world without having to pay extortionate telephone bills. Universities were able to educate international students situated in their home countries and businesses were able to use dispersed employees working on the same project through the use of groupware (software designed for a team of workers to share documents and files electronically and work on them interactively) running on the Internet. Technology as always meant considerable changes such as when the Personal Computer (PC) altered the way that businesses now conduct their affairs. The Internet and the WWW created the Internet revolution by causing changes in the way that organisations conduct their business. Dave Chaffey cites Andy Grove (1996), Chairman of Intel and one of the early adopters of e-commerce, who provides the following analogy of the Internet. He says: "Is the Internet a typhoon force, a ten times force, or is it a bit of wind? Or is it a force that fundamentally alters our business?". It seems as though this statement seems to sum up what everybody in this day and age would like to know. It is partly due to this 'Internet enigma' that this article has been compiled.

In a highly competitive market companies have had to review their strategies in order to attract customers. The capabilities of the Internet through the world wide web has meant that the role between business and customer has changed whereby the customer is now able to demand better service and has quick and easy access to information and goods. This has meant that businesses can know longer rely on old practises and must continue to evolve in order to meet ever changing customer demands.

If you like this article and share the same passion for the phenonenom that is e-commerce then please feel free to pay a visit to the authors own e-commerce store at ToyGrotto The author would very much appreciate any kind of feedback that you have to offer regarding ToyGrotto. Please feel free to submit your comments to the author at toygrotto@toygrotto.net. All comments and suggestions of all natures will be greatly appreciated and will be taken on board. The key to writing good articles is by having a wealth of knowledge and sources which then can be analysed and shared with others.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article.

The author is 24 years old, has just completed a Business and Computing Bsc Honours Degree and is the owner of an E-Commerce website called ToyGrotto. The author has a special interest in E-Commerce after undertaking E-Commerce has the subject of the authors final year dissertation. If anybody would like to view this disseration please email me at toygrotto@toygrotto.net. Your views would be greatly appreciated.

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