A look back at the NY Times covering ecommerce in 1994

Here’s a look back at the first dgitally-secure payment in ecommerce history, as covered in a 1994 New York Times article Attention Shoppers – Internet Is Open.

At noon yesterday, Phil Brandenberger of Philadelphia went shopping for a compact audio disk, paid for it with his credit card and made history.

Moments later, the champagne corks were popping in a small two-story frame house in Nashua, N.H. There, a team of young cyberspace entrepreneurs celebrated what was apparently the first retail transaction on the Internet using a readily available version of powerful data encryption software designed to guarantee privacy.

The article, written by Peter H. Lewis, focuses on NetMarket, an early online shopping site.

“Even if the N.S.A. was listening in, they couldn’t get his credit card number,” said Daniel M. Kohn, the 21-year-old chief executive of the Net Market Company of Nashua, N.H., a new venture that is the equivalent of a shopping mall in cyberspace. Mr. Kohn was referring to the National Security Agency, the arm of the Pentagon that develops and breaks the complex algorithms that are used to keep the most secret electronic secrets secret.

Even at this early stage, there was a prediction of digital currency. The timing was obviously wrong but good insight nonetheless. Read the article for more possible ideas of good ideas at the wrong time. Regardless, it’s an interesting look back in time.

“I think it’s an important step in pioneering this work, but later on we’ll probably see more exciting things in the way of digital cash,” said Philip R. Zimmermann, a computer security consultant in Boulder, Colo., who created the PGP program.

Digital cash, Mr. Zimmermann explained, is “a combination of cryptographic protocols that behave the way real dollars behave but are untraceable.”

In other words, they are packets of worth that have value in cyberspace, the same way dollars have value in the real world, except that they have the properties of anonymity, privacy and untraceability. Many details remain to be worked out, Mr. Zimmermann said.

For now, Mr. Brandenberger, despite his historic transaction yesterday, will be paying with plain old dollars, when he gets his credit card bill. And sometime today, the Sting CD will arrive by fairly conventional means — shipped FedEx from the Noteworthy Music warehouse in Nashua.

Andrew @ EcomLoop
Are you looking to start or grow a standalone ecommerce shop? I help independent businesses achieve success on the Shopify and WooCommerce platforms. As the owner of multiple ecommerce businesses, I've had the opportunity to get experience with nearly every aspect of the ecommerce industry. I started EcomLoop to help other quality independent businesses using my knowledge and experience. To stay on top of new ecommerce developments, I publish The EcomLoop Weekly Loop, a blog and email newsletter with original thoughts and curated links to help independent businesses improve their businesses.