Click Till You Drop

The Internet has become a shopper's paradise, stocked with everything from wine to cars. Business will never be the same

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And customers have begun to think differently as well. Charles Hintz, a retired psychiatrist from Des Moines, Iowa, has found a kind of salvation in the Net's limitless ease and bounty. Hintz, a 68-year-old quadriplegic, was paralyzed in a fall 12 years ago, but for the past three years he has been doing the birthday and holiday shopping for his large family on the computer, which he operates by poking the keyboard with a stick he holds in his mouth. He buys clothes from Lands' End online, CDs from CDnow and books from "It makes me feel independent," he explains.

That, of course, is the real miracle of the Internet. It's not just that it lets you do things better; it lets you do things you couldn't even dream of doing before. The seduction of being online--and this applies to everyone, from novice surfers on AOL to the hardiest hackers on the Web--is that it really does put an awful lot of power in your hands. You can start with the simplest of questions--How do I buy a new sport- utility vehicle?--and step away from your PC in an hour with more information than you might have gathered in a month without a modem. And that information may be better than anything you've ever seen. the Microsoft website, lets you look at 3D, interactive pictures of the inside of dozens of sports cars--something you can't do anywhere in the real world. The virtual world, for all its hype and promise, is finally delivering on at least one big idea: information, at last, is at your fingertips. This is what explains--even justifies--Jerry and David's billions. More fingertips start their Web travels at than at any other site.

For Yang and Filo, it's been a strange ride. Filo, a shy, laconic man who radiates intense smarts, remembers when he could visit every site on the World Wide Web in a couple of hours. That was in early '94, when the Web was young, and Jerry, his more outgoing partner, used to record the best websites on his computer for fun. The two shared offices in a trailer at Stanford University that was big enough for a desk and a computer for each of the graduate students.

David developed a navigational guide to search the Web, and soon Jerry found himself keeping track of not only his favorite sites but also David's. They dubbed their growing list "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web." But their part-time hobby quickly grew into a full-time obsession. More and more of their friends wanted to keep up with what was happening on the Web, and by fall the two enthusiasts were surfing the Net day and night. "It was impossible even to sleep," says Yang. Clearly there was a demand for some sort of service that could organize and make sense of all that information out there in cyberspace. They decided to turn their sideline into a business.

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