Commerce on the Internet

by R. Net Fisher

It seems that everywhere we turn these days we're being bombarded by information about how the Internet, and especially the World Wide Web, will change our lives. This magazine, of course, is no exception. If you listen to the most extreme advocates, everything about the way we live will be impacted! A slight exaggeration, we think; however, it does appear that it is already profoundly changing, forever, the way we acquire business information and, a lot sooner than later, the way we go about identifying and purchasing goods and services.

The nay-sayers have certainly been out in force on this subject and as a result most of us have gained at least an initial appreciation for the major challenges/limitations of conducting business in cyberspace. Perhaps you have even developed a nice set of fears and prejudices to overcome. What else is new? This is how it always goes with man's new endeavors--and the fears, anxieties, and anticipation of reward drive the engine of innovation.

It appears it will be definitely rewarding! Although it is reported that only 4-5% of Web surfers have actually made purchases, it is clearly becoming a natural segue from the yearly $200 billion (expected to go to over a trillion soon after the turn of the century) mail order and TV shopping networks, to the similar but soon-to-be vastly superior capability of shopping online. The difference has "Made in the U.S.A." written all over it!

You will be able to shop conveniently and privately, whenever you darn well please and for as long as you like. Competition will reign as almost instantaneous market-wide availability, price, and quality comparisons are made possible by the new phenomenon of using your own Personal Intelligent Agent "Web robot" (see sidebar). Finally, the American love affair with instant gratification will reach its apogee with the ability to rapidly utilize or download a multitude of products that can be made available in a digitized form (videos, music, books, magazines, computer programs, college classes, etc.)

How big is the interactive market that the Web is now beginning to impact? Forrester Research reports that the sale of goods through online services in the U.S. is currently almost $200 million and will grow to approximately $5 billion by 1998. Fueling this boom in sales is the increase in the number of online consumers from 4.2 million to 19.5 million over the same period.

The desire to facilitate commerce on the Internet is driving the development of solid solutions in four main categories:

Information Acquisition Systems (How do I locate the sellers of the products I seek, and how do I ensure that it's the best offer available?)

These are the search engines and Intelligent Agents (robots) to handle both simple and complex information retrieval and service transactions.

See: Webwalkers, Spiders, Wanderers and Worms in the July issue of WWWiz Online.

Transaction Security (How is my privacy of source and product selection protected?)

See: Industry Leaders support Secure Sockets Layer for Internet Security

See: What Trends Are Making the Internet an Attractive Place to Do Business?

See: WWW Security References

Payment Systems (How do I pay without risk, and how am I assured of receiving delivery?)

See: The DigiCash Home Page

See: Digital Cash Mini-FAQ

See: The FIRST VIRTUAL Home Page

See: SmartContracts Glossary

Information Transport Mechanisms (How do I get the right types of information [graphics, video, sound, etc.] to make an informed decision?)

See: netvideo--dedicated Internet digital video storage and distribution FAQ

Yes, there are challenges yet to be overcome, and depending on what you read and hear it may appear that it will take quite a while for commerce on the Net to catch on--but look again next month. In the blink of an eye the number of Netsurfers will again be up another 60%, and by one estimation, in that same blink of that same eye, there will be another 20,000 commercial sites catering to our every need.

The wiring of our planet will take place only once in the history of mankind. Thousands of years from now the short time between now and the end of the 20th century will be seen as a major turning point for civilization. It is happening now...and we are a part of it!

R.Net Fisher may be contacted at:

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