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Cybershopping: A model for the books


This was supposed to the year of electronic commerce--but it wasn't. So why pick e-commerce among our top stories of the year?

Well, mostly because of one company: While most cybershopkeepers were counting on the fact that if they just built it, users will come pouring in, proved that if you build it right, they will come.

For consumers, the biggest hurdle remained sending credit card numbers across the Net, according to industry watchers. Earlier this year, Visa and MasterCard merged their dueling efforts to make card transactions secure, but creating the Secure Electronic Transactions protocol is taking longer than they expected.

Also efforts were launched to assure consumers that online merchants are legitimate and won't sell their personal data to other vendors. The biggest push came from eTrust, a joint project of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, a civil liberties group, and industry consortium CommerceNet, but similar efforts are under way from and the Better Business Bureau.

Amid these concerns, created a site that apparently has overcome concerns of its customers. Perhaps it was because it saw what most others businesses failed to. E-commerce isn't about shovelware editions of print catalogs, blurry GIF's of gray-market goods, or CDs for full retail plus shipping and handling. used the online medium to create something that didn't exist before. At its site, readers can browse, follow stream-of-consciousness links, discuss books with authors and other readers, and buy books for less than retail. points the way for internet commerce: a selection larger than any retail store or printed catalog, an interface that takes advantage of the a database to do something useful, a sense of place and community, and the opportunity to save money. Other cyber merchants might want to borrow a page from