Speaker's Notes for U.T. E-Commerce Presentation

Daniel W. Connolly
$Id: speak.htm,v 1.1 1995/11/01 22:54:42 connolly Exp $

Good Afternoon

My first exposure to the world-wide web just a little over four years ago was on an obscure internet discussion forum -- alt.hypertext. Today, folks see URLs in Time, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal. And when I saw that Burlington Coat Factory had a storefront on the web, I realized that it's no longer just a cool "net.project" -- it's a way of doing business. It's become consumer technology.

Technology for the Web Marketplace

I'll talk briefly about why the web has been accepted and deployed so widely.

Then I'll introduce you to the World Wide Web Consortium, and discuss its role in electronic commerce.

And I'll spend the remaining time discussing W3C activities related to electronic commerce.

Proven Value of the Core Technology

That's what brings us here today -- the promise of a revolutionary new consumer technology. The web is undisputably the hottest technology trend today. But will it last?

Technology trends are like stars -- some never get past the vapor stage. Some grow too fast -- they go supernova and end up as white dwarves -- nice markets -- or black holes -- a danger to anything near them. But my view is that the world-wide web will have a long, healthy life as a pervasive technology. The marriage of distributed hypermedia and the decentralized networking infrastructure of the Internet is evidently just what the times are calling for.

There are few novel technologies in the World-Wide Web. It is simply an effective application of ideas that have been tested and proven:

The result: The web is now a vital, global information system, and an exploding marketplace.

Obviously a lot of people are using the net and the web today. But a whole lot more are sitting on the side of the pool, watching the trade rags, testing the water, and trying to decide if and when to jump in.

In high-tech markets, the web is already cost-effective. Hewlet Packard actually reduced support costs and increased customer satisfaction by delivering more information via the web and less by telephone.

Other web markets are not so mature today. But they're all growing. Various measurements of the size of the Internet and its markets may be all over the scale, but they all show the same trend of exponential growth. Smart business folks realize that even though the web may not be cost-effective today, the cost of playing catch-up tomorrow might kill them.

Market Demands

How Do We Increase the Quality of Service and Security, increase Performance, and foster Knowledge Sharing?

Clearly, there are large market segments where the producers and the consumers are sitting on opposite sides of a technology gap. They can't find each other in the vastness of the global information space. They can't exchange payments securely and reliably. The data formats limit the expressive capability of the information providers. And in this age of instant gratification, nobody wants to wait for information once they've found it.

This market demand for better web technology has not gone unnoticed. Enter Spyglass. Spry. Netscape. O'Reilly, EIT. And on their heels come IBM, Novell, Microsoft, Lotus, and MCI. Not to mention the legion of consultants, access providers, information providers, digital librarians and editors, and support organizations.

Stabilizing Forces in the Explosive Internet Market

Maintaining Confidence in the Technology

Don't forget the internet software development community that brought you Mosaic, USENET News, Internet Relay Chat, and the other ubiquitous applications on the internet.

Believe it or not, that "free software" community is a stabilizing influence on this market frenzy: one thing that draws information providers to the web is the tremendous size of the audience. Depending on any technology that's not royalty-free severely limits the audience.

The result is that while these companies can add value to the web by offering stability, support, and custom applications, it would be self-destructive for them to "splinter off" by failing to interoperate with the mainstream web.

So how do vendors differentiate themselves? Where does innovation fit it? After all, growth of the market depends on confidence in the technology which comes from a blend of the promise of an upgrade path with a proven track record of reliability.But for example, look at the Netscape extensions to HTML. Netscape is catching a certain amount of flak for not sumitting a proposal for public review before deploying them. But I believe they made an honest effort to investigate and avoid interoperability problems. If you add, say, a <blink> tag to a document, it doesn't cause mosaic or any other browsers to behave strangely. So while the netscape extensions violate the letter of the current HTML spec, they do not violate the spec in spirit.

As a counterexample, we can look back to the introduction of forms in HTML. Information providers who wanted to use forms had to include disclaimers like "look out! If you don't have Mosaic 2.0 or some other forms-capable browser, this page will look funky." There are mechanisms in the protocol that could have been used to let the software figure that out without manual intervention.

It's one thing to add features to the system and encourage users to upgrade to software that supports them. It's quite another to carelessly deploy features that makes the installed base of implementations look broken. That forces users to upgrade, and destroys confidence in the technology. Anyone looking at the web as a basis for mission-critical applications will be watching closely to be sure that enhancements are gracefully deployed. If they see the rules broken too many times, they'll just have to find some other way to get their job done.

W3C Background

W3C - Realizing the Full Potential of the Web

See: The World Wide Web Consortium at http://www.w3.org/

W3C Role in Electronic Commerce

W3C Electronic Commerce Activities

See: W3C Consortium Activity List in http://www.w3.org/.


See: W3C Security Resources at http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/Security/

The W3C Security Working Group is developing technologies to address the basic principles of network security that are necessary to secure a wide variety of applications: Confidentiality, Authenticity, Non-repudiability, and liveliness.


See: W3C Payments Resources at http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/Payments/.

PICS: Platform for Internet Content Selection

See: W3C Content Selection: PICS at http://www.w3.org/PICS/

Distributed Objects and Applications

See: Mobile Code at http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/MobileCode/ and
Object Oriented RPC at http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/Protocols/OORPC/.

Demographics and Identity

See: Demographic feedback: Overview of Resources at http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/Demographics/

HTML Evolution

See: HTML Working and Background Materials at http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/MarkUp/.