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The First Online Purchase Was a Sting CD (Or Possibly Weed) ( 53

tedlistens writes: On August 11, 1994, 21-year-old Dan Kohn, founder of a pioneering, online commerce site, made his first web sale. His customer, a friend of his in Philadelphia, spent $12.48, plus shipping costs on Sting's CD "Ten Summoner's Tales," in a transaction protected by PGP encryption. "Even if the N.S.A. was listening in, they couldn't get his credit card number," Kohn told a New York Times reporter in an article about NetMarket the following day. According to a new short video about the history of online shopping, there were a few precedents, including a weed deal between grad students on the ARPANET and a 74-year-old British grandmother who in 1984 used a Videotex—essentially a TV connected to telephone lines—to order margarine, eggs, and cornflakes.
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The First Online Purchase Was a Sting CD (Or Possibly Weed)

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  • by carlhaagen ( 1021273 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @04:39PM (#51014813)
    Oh ye of ignoramus stance, the Minitel network was popular already in the mid 80s: []
  • by Anonymous Coward

    [...] grandmother who [...] used [...] Videosex [...]

    Say wut?

    • You need to remember the song about Uncle Joe's Mint Balls. Then you'd know that your granny was a right little goer in her time.
  • by cirby ( 2599 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @04:59PM (#51014879)

    ...was online for years and years with "For Sale" groups, and some stores already had set up there. Before that, you'd see occasional "for sale" postings in a lot of groups.

    I bought a book advertised in a post in 1989.

    • Yep. I was working in Denver in 1988 and bought a dynamic noise reduction box from a guy at the University of Wisconsin. There was a lot more trust in those days. He boxed it up and shipped it the same day I put a check in the mail.
      • That's not an "online purchase" though. That's an online agreement to make a traditional offline transaction.

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @05:08PM (#51014917)


    Enough said.

  • by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @05:14PM (#51014939)
    In early 1994 or late 1993 (I remember this, because it was before I moved from NJ to SC), I used to buy CDs on the Internet from a company called I think they were based in California. They didn't have a web presence then: you used ftp to download their catalog, then you used telnet to log in and place your order. (They didn't use encryption, but the Internet was a safer place back then.) I think I placed a total of 3 orders with them about a half dozen CDs in each order. They were shipped by UPS and all arrived promptly and complete.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This article isn't about "Internet" purchases. It's about "online" purchases and you can be damn well sure we were doing that in the early 80's on BBS's but the first online sales happened way before then.

      I mean for fuck's sake, CompuServe had online sales in the 60's.

      • Exactly. I bought a swingset for my kid on CompuServe well before this date.

      • by Jhon ( 241832 )

        I thought it was about eCommerce. It might be subtle difference but perhaps not. Posting a "for sale" note on usenet or a BBS and then paying for/picking up the item in person doesn't necessary qualify as ecommerce. Commerce yes, but not ecommerce. I think the transaction needs to take place electronically -- not just the "promise" to buy/sell.

        We also had services like compuserve which allowed placing at least airline reservations (can't remember if they allowed outright purchases). Even that may not r

        • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

          Prodigy was a joint venture between IBM and Sears, in 1984. One of the things you could do with it was online shopping. In 1988 it hosted what is considered the first eCommerce company in the US, PC Flowers.

  • I bought jeans and books and coffee on Compuserve and later in 1990 or earlier, on the first mosaic, books from

  • by jtara ( 133429 )

    I worked for a San Diego Company called MediaShare (later changed to Elemental Software) that created a site with shopping cart for Tesco in 1994 or 1995. Not sure if it actually went live, but was not for Minitel, it was for the web.

    I wrote the shopping-cart part. The server side was in C, either CGI or NSAPI for Netscape Server.

    The company had software for creating catalogs on both print and CDROM. I convinced my boss that publishing to HTML as well might be a useful thing.

  • Definition of online (Score:5, Informative)

    by jgotts ( 2785 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (sttogj)> on Friday November 27, 2015 @05:56PM (#51015037)

    I personally purchased things in the mid-1980's online using Quantum Link, but CompuServe dates back to 1969 so people were obviously making online purchases throughout the 1970's. BBSes were active and often linked together in massive networks from the 1970's through the 1990's. Whether that counts is up for debate.

    If you're speaking strictly about the Internet, the Usenet forsale groups have been around for a long time. My first use of the Internet was in 1992 to sell some old computer junk, but Usenet dates back to the 1980's.

    It's amazing how ignorant people are of the online world before 1995.

    • I think they meant "first web sale". Yes, I want to shoot the people who think there was no computer networking before the World Wide Web too.

  • by SocietyoftheFist ( 316444 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @06:17PM (#51015115)

    Plus I remember BB for sale sections.... I guess you could say the first WWW/Internet transaction but not the first online one.

  • Nope. That was not the first. Lots of purchases were made online before 1994. Online sales were already strong then. I had a company that was selling stuff over the internet back in 1988. Previous to that I had bought stuff over the internet.

    • by aix tom ( 902140 )

      He. Even in TFA itself it says that "Organizations wanting to use PGP for commercial purposes must obtain it on the Internet", so the software used to make that CD sale was puchasable "Online" before the CD in question.

  • I bought a Panasonic microwave oven from CompuServe for my parents in 1984. This microwave is still working. Used pretty much every day for the last 30 years.
  • I bought stuff over the web earlier than that in 1994. Probably as much as a year earlier. And more than a year if you count non-web transactions.

    the first retail transaction on the Internet using a readily available version of powerful data encryption software designed to guarantee privacy.

    The /. summary leaves out that significant caveat.

  • I would love to know the first cryptographically secure e-commerce transaction outside of a testbed environment. If something similar to the August 11, 1994 https: transaction occurred prior to that date, that would be worth contacting the author [] about. By similar, I mean a transaction in which the buyer used a cryptographically secure method to provide payment information directly to the seller, vs. using a non-secure method like email to provide payment information, using an intermediary like CompuServe

  • about the sting CD, people had been buying things on "on-line" services for over a decade by that point

  • Others have mentioned it already - because it's so obvious - but allow me to chime in: MiniTel was spread nationwide in France from the early eighties. That includes official public MiniTel booths, free home-terminals including both a keyboard and a screen, billboard add-campaing for MiniTel services and ecommerce and even a large widespread market for cybersex

  • I bought software (on 5.5 inch floppies) over dial up internet with baud 2400 for statistics and other programs fro BBC Micro in 1983.

  • What is this shit? Minitel? Private selling on Usenet? The summary even has an earlier example...
  • The Diaspar Virtual Reality Network started selling "Fallen Angels" by permission of Baen Books in June 1, 1992. The price was $1.00 a copy and the first copy sold was to someone in New Zealand - making it an international sale!

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