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The Internet Businesses The Almighty Buck United Kingdom

How a Grandmother Pioneered a Home Shopping Revolution 94

Posted by samzenpus
from the old-school dept.
eionmac writes in with a story about the humble beginnings of an industry that is worth over $186.1 billion in the UK alone. "Grandmother Jane Snowball, 72, sat down in an armchair in her Gateshead home in May 1984, picked up a television remote control and used it to order the groceries from her local supermarket. She was part of a council initiative to help the elderly. What she - and everyone else with her at the time - didn't realise was that her simple shopping list was arguably the world's first home online shop. With her remote control she used a piece of computer technology called Videotex. It sent the order down her phone line to the local Tesco - the goods were then packaged and delivered to her door. Mrs Snowball never saw a computer - her television linked her to the shop. 'What we effectively did was to take a domestic TV in a home and turn it into a computer terminal,' says Michael Aldrich, the man behind the technology for the system. 'That was the big leap.'"
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How a Grandmother Pioneered a Home Shopping Revolution

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  • by mjwalshe (1680392) on Monday September 16, 2013 @02:14PM (#44865339)
    And for fucks sake PRESTEL was far more than a dumb Videotext information service.
    • With an uplink speed of 75bps.

      • by mpe (36238)
        With an uplink speed of 75bps.

        Asymetric data links were around long before "broadband". Someone realised that they could add this onto a 1200 baud half duplex modem.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      There was an experimental deployment of a viewdata system in South Florida in the late 1970's to early 1980's. With similar capabilities. Viewdata Corporation of America. Owned by Knight Ridder (news paper company).

      • by Tuidjy (321055)

        You could buy stuff on-line using France's Minitel long before '84. Definitely by '82, possibly earlier. A friend of mine living in Bretagne had been telling me about it for a few years before it came to Alsace.

        You needed a credit card, and preventing kids from shopping for porn was already a problem.

        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          And you could certainty do some types of online transaction of PRESTEL at that time and that had been going for a while interesting that the Article makes ZERO mention of Samuel Fedida and all the work done At Martelsham and latterly at PRESTEL.
  • I have an available online grocery store, but it's a local affair that can't afford decent software for their site, which makes searching/sorting/filtering down to what you want difficult. I can tell it needs a big-money push.

    • by MrEricSir (398214)

      Would Google [google.com] count as "big money"?

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      Fresh Direct? It's NY-Centered, but they do other states now.

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      This is a big problem in general. Most local/independent businesses have little-to-no online presence. It doesn't really need a big money push. Just someone to develop some half decent service where the retailer doesn't have to manage a website. There's a couple offerings out there, but probably nothing that is geared towards grocery delivery .It wouldn't take a huge amount of cash or time to get a service online that would give them the basics. Especially for the players in this industry who already have
  • by fldsofglry (2754803) on Monday September 16, 2013 @02:23PM (#44865427)
    Next steps:
    1) Claim as prior art
    2) Sue google, amazon, and every other ecommerce retailer out there
    3) Make a gazillion dollars
    4) Sit at home watching tv, surfing the net, and spending money online
  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Monday September 16, 2013 @02:24PM (#44865435)
    2 bottles of red wine
    1 can of whip cream
    4 extra large cucumbers
    1 can Crisco cooking grease
    1 box Trojan condoms
    1 package of Marlboro Lights
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Would this be like saying that I pioneered a home computing revolution because I bought an Apple ][?

    I'm pretty sure this story should be about Michael Aldrich, not one of his users.

  • ...anyone got their grandmother to shop online. :)

    • ...anyone got their grandmother to shop online. :)

      That joke made sense 20 years ago; not so much today. Even old-school, Luddite-esque hillbillies like my dad (who is a grandfather almost a dozen times over) use Amazon to buy shit in 2013.

      Namely fishing lures.

  • That's about the silliest thing I've heard today. A television screen, even in 1984, was probably a computer monitor. Granted it was NTSC, but around that time most televisions were switched over to digital tuners (which are computers).

    I mean, I'm a computer programmer, and I spend my day working in Visual Studio, vim, and NetBeans (depending on what I'm doing). By that logic, I never see a computer either, at least not the one I'm working on. I spend most of my day in an RDP session on a retired tradeshow

    • by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday September 16, 2013 @02:47PM (#44865685)

      That's about the silliest thing I've heard today. A television screen, even in 1984, was probably a computer monitor. Granted it was NTSC, but around that time most televisions were switched over to digital tuners (which are computers).

      Not even close. This was the UK, so the system was PAL, not NTSC. And in 1984, televisions (as this was) were fare more analogue than digital. For sure it was a TV with teletext, and a modem, so there was some digital element in there, but certainly more analogue TV than computer monitor. Teletext was very much a technology to display text on a PAL analogue TV.

      • by 91degrees (207121)
        Sounds like this was Prestel. Not quite sure exactly how that worked, but presumably the terminal device was a computer.

        Of course, the actual work was done by a bank of servers buried in the vaults of British Telecom somewhere. The prestel hardware would have been just a dumb terminal adaptor
      • by gl4ss (559668)

        she never saw the computer because they didn't say that the device that called the order in was a computer nor did they say that the output she saw on the screen was computer generated.

        computer monitors up until 2000's were all just as analog as tv's.. heck, more analog since the tv's that included a teletext viewer had computers(not very fancy of course) built into them(to generate the teletext view), usually the micro controlled other stuff too like what the tuner was tuned into, brightness controls and w

        • Anyone who was using microcomputers of the time was very aware of the difference between a TV and a computer monitor.

          Teletext it was done with logic chips. No CPU. Logic chips don't make it a computer.

          As to Prestel, mostly it was via separate boxes, that would output UHF to a TV, working exactly as if the signal was coming from a TV aerial.

    • A television screen, even in 1984, was probably a computer monitor.

      With a hidden camera.

    • by Alioth (221270)

      To be pedantic, it would have been a PAL television (625 vertical lines) since it was the UK. It's likely the Prestel set wasn't built into the TV, it's a lot more likely this was a set top box, but the reporter didn't know how Prestel and other Videotex services were typically used back then. The TV may have been full of vacuum tubes (we call them "valves" here).

      My first computer was connected to a TV. In the mid-late 80s, I had a modem for it - but we always had cast off TVs from TV rental places since my

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So my computer screen (just a standard TV) was full of valves

        Are you sure? The introduction of colour TV in the UK post-dates the use of transistors in consumer electronics. I'm not aware that any colour TV in the UK ever used valves.

        So you might have had a really, really old black and white TV. Or there were no valves and it was the CRT itself that took time to warm up.

        • Are you sure? The introduction of colour TV in the UK post-dates the use of transistors in consumer electronics. I'm not aware that any colour TV in the UK ever used valves.

          Oh for sure most or all TVs of the early 1980s had valves. My brother's job at the time was a TV repair man, who's main job was visiting homes, replacing valves. Sometimes it'd be burned out boards, but mostly it was replacing valves.

  • Everything is a 'computer'...
  • Some Granny managed to order groceries online and have them delivered to her place. - And that's something that Amazon and conventional supermarkets are still working on.

    • by istartedi (132515)

      They're not working on it. They're just re-inventing it. It used to be that it wasn't that uncommon for local markets to deliver, for customers that wanted to pay for delivery. This was probably even more common when there was one car per family and only the husband drove it. They're just working on a more efficient, less personal version of picking up the phone and asking Sam the Butcher if his boy can deliver some beef. Remember It's a Wonderful Life? Yeah, it's a movie; but the boy delivering drugs

      • With times being tough, we might see more one-car families and/or extended families where you have somebody at home to accept deliveries. If anything will make delivery more common, it's those kinds of demographic shifts back towards something that doesn't require everybody to be really busy away from home and/or to have their own personal auto.

        I think that's the problem here. I'm already struggling to pick up my Amazon parcels from the post office when the post office tries to deliver them during usual office hours (named because I'm usually at the office and NOT at home...)

    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      Not in the Uk its not :-)
    • What they're working on is making it profitable enough to bother.
  • by rssrss (686344) on Monday September 16, 2013 @03:39PM (#44866099)

    Dates from 1977.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QUBE [wikipedia.org]

  • For fuck's sake, the grandmother had exactly NOTHING to do with it. There was tons of engineering behind it that made it happen. All the grandmother did was happen to be the first user. She didn't pioneer a DAMN THING.

    Next week on Bullshit Modern Journalism: How a Snail that Got Run Over by the Wright Brothers' Airplane on the Runway at Kitty Hawk Ushered in the Era of Modern Aviation.

    PS: Dan Brown, I loved (I'll admit it) your first four books, but I thought The Lost Symbol was only OK, and I gave up readi

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Monday September 16, 2013 @05:26PM (#44866999)

    That's one google search I dare not try.

  • by TwineLogic (1679802) on Monday September 16, 2013 @05:50PM (#44867243)
    "Just curious." I mean: I hope they had prior art of every amazon patent, right down to the color orange.
  • Minitel? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "What she - and everyone else with her [in May 1984] - didn't realise was that her simple shopping list was arguably the world's first home online shop. With her remote control she used a piece of computer technology [...]"

    ...that had been in use in France since 1978 (at a national scale since 1982).

    Maybe that's why people "didn't realise it was the world's first home online shop". Because they'd actually bothered to check, unlike whoever wrote this article.

  • groceries are probably the only thing where it is less efficient to buy online and have delivered than to go to a store.

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