The 72 year old Grandmother who became an Internet Pioneer

By Stuart Fuller


The Internet as we know it today celebrated its 30th birthday last year.  Prior to 1985 there existed a number of interconnected networks (Inter-Net for short) mainly used by education institutions and the military.  It took the creation of the Domain Name System, or DNS as we know it today back in 1983 to essentially codify the infrastructure we have in place today.  Just over a year later the first domain name was registered and the rest is history.  Today, nearly half of the world’s population has access to the Internet and the number of domain names has recently passed through the 300 million mark.

Today we can almost buy anything from anyone anywhere in the world at any time.  The Internet does not discriminate.  Technology has meant we now carry all we need to access any website in our pockets, leading to the rampant growth in mobile e-commerce.  It is estimated that 10% of all products bought and sold today are done so across the Internet.

We can thank pioneers such as Bill Gates’s Microsoft, Larry Page and Sergey Brin founders of Google or Jeff Bezos, the creator of the most successful e-tailor, for our Internet freedom today.  Oh, and Mrs Jane Snowball of Gateshead.

Mrs Snowball may not be a multi-billionaire like Gates or Bezos but it is arguable that without her willingness to be a crash test dummy back in 1984 in her Gateshead home we wouldn’t have seen the shopping revolution that today is worth over £125 billion to the UK economy alone.

She was part of a council initiative to help the elderly. What she didn't realise was that her simple shopping list was arguably the world's first home online shop.  Her order of eggs, cornflakes and margarine, chosen through a menu system on her TV and controlled via a remote control, was sent down her phone line to her local Tesco where it was packed and delivered to her house, where she paid cash.

The system that was being trialled was called Videotex and took the concepts already used by a number of consumers and businesses such as Prestel and Minitel.  The company signed up Tesco along with Lloyds Pharmacies and Greggs to provide a menu of products for the trial customers to choose from.

It would be another decade for the online revolution really started to happen, with Tesco becoming one of the leading players in the UK ecommerce market.  The technology used by Videotex may have been primitive but it provided some of the inspiration for those first online shopping websites.  Today, every retailer has to have an ecommerce function just to compete with the Internet proving to be the world’s biggest shop window.

So when we heap praise on Amazon for stocking sneezing panda toys spare a thought for Mrs Snowball for going where no man or woman had ever gone before.