The first time I bought anything online was in 1998. It was a dozen Spaldeens at Justballs.com.
Officially, a Spaldeen is a Spalding Hi-Bounce Ball. In New York City in the ’60s, we called them Spaldeens. They were hard and pink, and we picked them out of candy store bins for 25 cents a pop. They were the killer app for stickball, stoopball, punchball or simply throwing against a wall until your mom called you in for dinner.
I forgot about Spaldeens until my son reached the age when it seemed appropriate to introduce him to the constant companion of my youth. But where could you find one? Not at the corner candy store. There are no corner candy stores anymore. Not at Toys “R” Us. All its balls flash, buzz or jitterbug. Then I heard about Justballs.com, a funky little website that sold nothing but balls. And there they were. Of course, they weren’t 25 cents anymore. They were more like a buck and a half. Still, I ordered a dozen.
About the same time, I started doing my grocery shopping online. How great was that! You clicked in your order and 24 hours later your bottled water, butter and bread showed up. No lines. No idiot tossing watermelons on top of your grapes.
But 1998 now seems like a very long time ago. My online grocer, Home Runs, folded this summer. Now I’m back in line, trying not to go nuts while some fool tries to use a maxed-out credit card to buy a pint of Cherry Garcia.
Let’s face it. For a whole lot of reasons things have not turned out so well for a whole lot of people at a whole lot of businesses. Here at CIO, we reported on the disasters, such as Boo.com, eToys.com, Kozmo.com and Pets.com, and being journalists, we became detached?because that’s both the job description and the dominant personality trait of the people who go into the business?and grew cynical. And as those ventures bit the dust one by one and as their failures rippled through the economy, affecting vendors, suppliers, investors and recently the publications that were created to tell their stories (R.I.P., The Industry Standard), that cynicism has expanded to encompass the Web and e-commerce itself.
Much of it is justified. But much is not.
The other day, my boy suggested a game of catch. We searched the house. No Spaldeens.
I retreated to my computer, typed in Justballs.com, and the site was still there. Different, certainly. Less funky than before. It will put your corporate logo on 1,000 foam footballs. And it now sells windbreakers and polo shirts. But it still has Spaldeens. That, finally, is the promise of the Web?to provide what’s needed, once what’s needed is defined. There are still good ideas out there. (Some day, someone will figure out the online grocery business.) Despite all the doom and gloom, this e-commerce thing can still work.
But this time I ordered two dozen Spaldeens. Because you just never know.