The World Has Changed…

I looked at my eBay profile today to see if someone had left me negative feedback out of spite. He hadn’t… But as I was in there I took notice of an interesting stat.

Member since: 2003.

I was a latecomer to online commerce for the simple reason that I didn’t have a credit card at the time. I got involved in eBay because my boss at Poppy Industries had a lot of stuff that he wanted to unload… And frankly there aren’t a lot of companies with three employees that need a full time IT guy.

I was living in near poverty back then, but I had a lot of stuff… I sold off bits from my Army days (including my jacket which was, shall we say, less than stylish). I sold other stuff, but couldn’t tell you what. I remember buying a bag full of Smurfs at a garage sale for $0.10 each, and sold three of them for $20 each. There was a thrill to it, and since David didn’t seem to mind my selling my stuff along with his, I went with it.

EBay was the clear winner of the genre, but I remember five years before I even joined eBay my friend Michelle tried to buy something on Yahoo Auctions.  I don’t know when that site closed, but it was still during the days where there were hundreds of search engines and they were all trying to differentiate themselves. Of course we know who won that battle.

There was no such thing as Chrome (or Google) when I started on the Internet, but you did have three browsers to choose from – Netscape Navigator, Mozilla Mosaic, and the upstarts at Microsoft decided to get into the game at some point by releasing Internet Explorer 1.

Back in 1996 I had bought a used Gateway laptop with an 80486 processor in it that I brought to my Army post in Lebanon with me. When I decided to get on the Internet with it there were several challenges… The first of which was that I had to download a program called Trumpet Winsock, because Windows 3.1 did not have a tool to actually dial in to the Internet.  Once I was connected though it wasn’t a great experience at first… I was using the same terminal program (Procomm 2.4.2) that I used to connect to BBSes. I frankly thought the World Wide Web was overrated… Until I connected to the same chat site (IRC) using the proper tool and not just a terminal session.

Downloading music was still years away, but I remember this feeling of ‘what do I do?’ – and not an excited ‘what can I do now?’ Feeling. I was connected to this Internet… But what can I do? I still hadn’t heard of search engines at that point. It was only a few months later when I visited Montreal that my friend Steven Rich introduced me to Yahoo.

During the weekends during my Army service I worked as a bouncer at Joey’s Pub in Tel Aviv. I got to the bar a couple of hours early one day and was sitting at the bar plugging away at my new Windows 95 (that was given to me by someone in UNIFIL) and someone asked me if I was on the Internet, and then if I liked to chat. Yes and Yes. So he asked if I would be interested in trying a new chat program that he and a friend had just created. It was called ICQ, and long before AOL bought them out for $300,000,000 it was just a quaint little chat program written by a guy I met at a bar.

When I moved from Israel to Canada a program called RealAudio became central to my being because I could continue to listen to Istaeli Radio from Canada. And when I realized I could make a few extra dollars by installing a program and letting them show me ads on my computer as I worked I was glad because extra money – even the $20 or so they sent me every couple of months – was a welcome injection of cash.

TD Bank asked me if I wanted to bank on-line, and when I agreed they gave me a floppy disk (remember those?) to install a program (the word app was in the distant future) to install that would securely connect me to their bank. It never worked… But since I had no money back then, it didn’t really matter.

The world of computers, which until a couple of years before had been mostly professional, now had programs that told me in a loud baritone voice that whipped the llama’s ass. Much of the Internet was about porn, it was possible to walk down the street and see a major retailer that didn’t have a website… And buy their domain name. A majority of web pages were static code, and companies would use their sites to get you to visit them in person, in their B&M (brick and mortar – another term that was still a ways off) locations. There was no Amazon, but when there finally was they sold… Books. Not e-books by the way, because nobody had figured out how to protect and monetize those… And there were no eBook readers or tablet computers that would make them ubiquitous.

Cellular phones were pretty popular by then… And aside from making phone calls, some of them could store your phone numbers too… Up to 100 of them in the high-end models. The words camera and phone were years away from being hyphenated. Video games would come before smartphones, but when Blackberry came out it was revolutionary… But still years in the future.

The late 1990s were a great time with regard to computers. I hosted a radio show from 1997-1999 and received during that time precisely two e-mails… I get more than that while I am in the shower these days.

Then the bubble burst.

The world had been getting rich off high tech, and a lot of the companies that were nearly household names went away overnight. Giants collapsed into the annals of History. 

When dinosaurs roamed the earth there was no chance for mammals to grow and flourish. It wasn’t until the giant predators were wiped out that or ancestors got the opportunity… And a land previously ruled by giant lizards gave way for a planet that would eventually be populated by mankind. One day we will be gone, and something else will rule.

In much the same way, the collapse of those Internet giants of the late 1990s paved the way for Google and Amazon and eBay and the like to grow into the giants that they are. One day those companies will vanish (or at least be made irrelevant) and that will pave the way for… Something sale, whatever is next.

I started writing articles and such in those days, and I would e-mail them to a list of people. I did this for years before I finally built a website, and did that for a few years before actually starting a blog. 

I would love to go back in time and tell the 26 year old Me that one day I would be sitting in bed writing an article like this, that would be read by tens of thousands of you… On my cellphone while lying in bed.

So here’s the secret to becoming rich… Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg rich:

Figure out what’s next… Then make it happen.

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