Internet: 09September1999

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Internet Story: 09 September 1999

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In this issue:

99 Year Old Customer Service

Diameter of the Web

Web Photo Sites

Silicon Film

UK wide food delivery!

Argos Online Bargain?

NSA shoots its own foot!


99 on 9/9/99   Today it's Beulah Bechtel's 99th birthday.  The Beacon Journal has a fascinating article about Beulah and the women's fashion shop she still runs in downtown Wooster, Ohio.  Beulah stands out as a light that every e-commerce company should look to.  "... I've always said you have to stay in constant contact with the customer, not just walk up to them at the register''.  A remarkable woman with a wisdom that we're having to re-learn for the electronic commerce era.


Diameter of the Web  Bet you didn't know it had one, did you?  Well according to Notre Dame physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, who along with two colleagues studied the Web’s topology, it does and it's 19.  What they're really talking about is a mathematical model of the web that shows that the average number of clicks to links between 2 randomly picked sites on the Web is 19.  That means on average if you click on any site of your choice and think of another site it should take about 19 clicks on links to get to that other site.  So in 19 clicks you should be able to get from a link on Pendle.Net to, say, a site on the politics of Patagonia.  See the article at MSNBC and at USA Today.


Web Photo Sites  With Hewlett-Packard and Adobe Systems now in the business of online photography, you've got more opportunities than ever to post, share, and tinker with your family photos.  Both companies recently announced photo Web sites and are promising that their experience in printing and photo editing will bring them a competitive advantage over the smaller start-ups.  The HP Cartoga site (expected to open sometime in October 1999) even allows you to store up to 15Mb of your photos online for free.  See ZDNet article for more details.


Silicon Film  Continuing with the digital photography theme, a company called Silicon Film (previously known as Imagek) is to release (~Oct 1999) a 24 shot, 1280 X 1024 insertable digital film cartridge solution for traditional 35mm cameras.  About time too!  It was my first thought 4 years ago when I purchased my first digital camera.  Why has it taken so long?!  The only downsides are that it only holds 24, it will cost about $800 and it only fits a few cameras, though more models are promised later.


Iceland Freeshop  At last!  A UK food retailer understands what we want.  No, small trial the never gets rolled out (thanks ASDA, Sainsbury & Tesco... but no thanks!) but the full monty!  I, like many others commenting in the UK newsgroups, heralded the launch of the online ordering and delivery of goods from some of our large supermarket chains.  But, where are we a year later?  They are still running small localized trials - OK, if you live in London or one of the other catchment areas but the rest of us are stuffed!  Enter Iceland with Iceland Free Shop who have been running a telephone ordering system for over a year now.  In that year Iceland have obviously not only been ramping up their local stores to fulfill orders around the country (97% of the population), but they have bean beavering away working on a web front end for the sales side.  I hope they have learned the "Peapod" lessons and can make a success of this.  See BBC article for more details.


Argos Sale  Oops, not so good bit of e-commerce from Argos this week.  From the publicity stunts from hell department comes Argos Online trying to flog 21" TV sets for £2.99 each.  Or maybe not.  It has been described as a "computer error" by Argos, though it's more likely to be incompetent program specification that didn't have data entry validation!  On Tuesday this week it was noted that TVs were priced at £2.99 on the Argos site.  The word quickly spread and millions of pounds worth of TVs were ordered before the mistake was corrected (some person managed to order 1700 TV sets, no doubt his Perl skills are quite sharp :-)).  Argos are currently refusing to fulfill orders and may fall foul of UK law which states that items must be sold at the price they are labeled at.  Don't know why they don't just ship what they have in stock for £2.99 and say that the offer was "while stocks last" - unless they have thousands of TVs in stock!  In a later development, on Wednesday they were apparently sending out apologetic emails to customers saying that they wouldn't ship at that price but the customer can re-order at the new price of £3299.99 - finger trouble again? ;-)  Vultures (sorry, lawyers) are circling...


NSA shoots its own foot  What a rumpus there has been this week with the discovery of a 2nd security key in all versions of MS Windows since Windows 95(ii).  Last week Andrew Fernandes at Cryptonym reported this and the brown fan started spinning when the news hit SlashDot on Friday.  The keys in question allow holders to integrate security services into Windows.  The purpose being that not just any old crypto programmer can put their code into windows - they have to be certified by Microsoft, which makes them sign declarations stating that they will not export the software outside of the USA & Canada.  The existence of a 2nd key has been know about for a while and only speculation about its purpose has ensued.  When Microsoft issued the last service pack for Windows NT they inadvertently left in debugging symbols for this code - hence the name of the 2nd key showed up... _NSAKEY.  This week has seen all sorts of accusations about what it is there for (NSA (US National Security Agency) spying on us, NSA using it for government only encryption).  Whatever the purpose of this key it now presents an interesting situation: anyone can now use this facility to install their own security module without asking Microsoft (or the NSA!) and thus enable Windows for strong encryption.  This is just what the NSA did NOT want to happen.  You can find program code to do this here.


Andrew Stringer, © Pendle.Net Ltd, 1999

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