The Internet Turns 25, and its Progeny, Powells.com, Hits 20
Last week, someone very close to my heart had a birthday, or rather – something. The World Wide Web. 25 years ago, British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee published a paper called “Information Management: A proposal,” opening up whole new worlds for me, and my Apple IIc to explore. Little did I know then that the Internet would become my close friend (Facebook FTW), my trusted resource (thank ye, oh Google!), my virtual shopping cart (waiting impatiently for the Amazon Prime drones), and eventually, my employer (Hello, Integra!).
Even Berners-Lee himself couldn’t have imagined where the web would go, and how it would evolve. In fact, his original idea was really more about putting a system in place to help his organization, CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) keep track of data. His original proposal wasn’t even accepted, until he iterated on it, developing the core concepts like HTML, HTTP, URI, and the world’s first web server, laying the foundation necessary to launch the first web page in 1990.
But great ideas can’t be controlled, they’re contagious, infectious, and within short time, the web had taken on a life of it’s own. In 1991, the Web became accessible outside the CERN organization, and in 1993, when it was made available royalty-free it went public, if not yet mainstream. The possibilities unleashed were dramatic, and soon, early adopters began to join the movement, as digitally connected producers and consumers of content.
By mid-1994 there were approximately 2,738 websites, compared to over 600 Million today. And one of these early adopters was right here in Portland – our very own Powell’s Books, the first bookstore ever on the WWW. When I saw the shout out to Powell’s last week in Computerworld’s article, “The Web’s Anniversary: 25 Websites from 25 Years Ago,” I can’t lie, I got a serious warm, fuzzy feeling. I mean, who doesn’t love Powell’s, especially a Portlander? And while nothing could replace the simple pleasure of sipping a latté while test driving a book in their café, knowing that they were one of the first to extend their customer experience to the web gives me a sense of pride. Not to mention that, today, they’re doing so over Integra fiber via our valued partner, Matrix Networks.
In fact, Powell’s had joined the digital fray a full year prior, via email and FTP.
Sure, their early site wasn’t the most glamorous, but in 1994 it was a modern miracle.
Besides that, it just made sense in a fundamental way. The WWW was designed with shared access in mind. Access to information, content, and beyond that – ideas, collaboration, and the connections that open our minds and spur us to greatness as individuals, and as a collective. What does that better than books? Powell’s seemed to feel the same way, as did their customers, and within 5 years, the two person Powells.com operation had grown online sales to 10% overall. The next year, 20%, all of which seemed to happen without reducing the coffee-drinking ranks of their café, as the majority of sales came from outside of the NW.
In 2005, Powell’s unveiled it’s new website and blog, landing it on Internet Retailer’s “Top 50 Retail Websites.” Today, Internet sales are an important part of Powell’s business and they continue to drive the company forward and outward to new audiences and markets.
Powell’s website today. An improvement, no?
Says Kim Sutton, Director of Marketing at Powell’s Books, “We are proud to have been a pioneer in online retail way back in 1994. Our website remains a critical component of achieving our mission to be the world’s best destination for readers, a place that fosters a culture of reading and connects people with the books they’ll love.”
A full and very funny timeline of events can be found on today’s site, as well as over two million books and a wealth of original content from book recommendations to author interviews. Daily, Powells.com processes online orders that are shipped to nearly every country in the world, serving readers well beyond the company’s Portland roots. Managing and maintaining a retail website of this magnitude is no easy task, which is where Integra partner, Matrix Networks comes in. Matrix equipped Powell’s with VoIP and UC systems, supported by PRIs and Metro Ethernet services over Integra’s metro and long-haul fiber footprint.
Partner at Matrix, Alan McLean states “Matrix Networks has had a long and satisfying relationship with Powell’s, providing them voice and data expertise for two decades. In many ways they are a trend setter. Besides being the first bookstore on the web, they were the first in the Portland area to deploy a Metro Ethernet network and one of the first to implement VoIP between locations. We truly value their pioneering spirit and look forward to what comes next.”
At the end of the day, the partnership between Powell’s, the web and the underlying foundation that makes it possible offer a great example of what can happen when information is open and accessible, and great ideas are shared. It’s a good thing, according to the 90% of Internet users that say the web has personally benefited them, and the 76% that feel it’s been good for society.
So here’s a toast to you Internet, and our beloved Portland bibliophile trailblazer, Powell’s. Looking forward to the next 25 years!
Manager, Digital & Content