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image: Coursework header Using the overhead projector, Goolsbee flashes a Web site address on the screen, explaining that he plans to post lecture notes and other course information on the site as soon as he figures out a way to prevent non–University people from viewing it. “Since I cracked a password and bootlegged all the information from two other guys’ classes,” he laughingly allows, “I know they are trying to get me back.” Over chuckles, he gives an aw-shucks grin and continues with the course overview, noting that part of the students’ grades will be based on a group presentation but “if you have no friends and want to be your own group, that’s OK too.”

The intro out of the way, Goolsbee gets down to e-business. He projects onto the screen a timeline of the developmental history of the Internet, acknowledging that students may already know a lot of the background. Back in the early ’70s, he begins, the Internet was basically a bunch of computer scientists who wanted to set up their computers to easily share information. It only took a couple of million dollars to set up and involved about 40 users. The Internet that people think of today, he continues, began 20 years later when the government opened the Internet to commerce with about 100,000 users. “To put that in perspective,” Goolsbee notes, “there are about 100 million users in the U.S. today, with about 200 million worldwide.”

Building on the gee-whiz momentum, Goolsbee points out that the Internet took only five years to catch on with the general public, while radio took six, VCRs eight, television nine, cell phones 10, cars 18, and air conditioning 22. Then, in a moment incongruous with the lecture’s subject and the age of PowerPoint presentations, a transparency goes out of focus. Fiddling with it, Goolsbee knocks the plug out of the wall but recovers quickly with the comment, “I’m always prepared.” He moves on to the size of the Internet economy, which has grown from $7 billion in 1998 to $20 billion in 1999 to $40 billion in 2000. “That’s what puts the fear of God into non-Internet companies and into the government in terms of taxes,” he explains. “When you have something that doubles every year, it doesn’t take it that long to be a really big thing. Nobody really knows if something that is now less than .5 percent of retail is going to be 5 percent or 50 percent in the future.”

That not-knowing part gives the class an air of expectancy. Soon, it gets more interactive. Goolsbee has to dig into his stash of handouts for the course section immediately following this one (he also offers a third section on Tuesday evenings at the Gleacher Center) to find enough copies of a February 27, 1997, Investor’s Business Daily article on Jeff Bezos, who at the time was about two years into the start up of his on-line bookstore, As the students begin reading, Goolsbee asks them to consider if, like Bezos, they would have quit their jobs to start such a company, and why they think Bezos picked books. He then pops out of the room.

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