Web Commerce Interest Group Meeting at W3C TPAC in Lyon

For a few beautiful days in late October, the W3C held its annual Technical Plenary and Advisory Committee meeting (TPAC) at the Cité Centre de Congrès de Lyon.  As in years past, hundreds of information technology professionals attended TPAC to advance standards for the World Wide Web.  As part of TPAC, the Web Commerce Interest Group (WCIG) met October 25 and 26.  TPAC provides an opportunity for groups within the W3C to collocate and interact on topics face to face, and the WCIG meeting took full advantage of that opportunity.  See the meeting agenda for links to all presentations.

The WCIG is a forum within the W3C to discuss emerging trends in commerce, with special attention given to topics that would benefit from standardization.  The primary stakeholders in Web commerce are all those who interact on the Web for the sale or purchase of goods and services, including consumers, merchants, and suppliers of systems and technologies that enable transactions.  On the first day, the group discussed the ever changing regulatory environment, the expanding role of identifying artifacts (credentials) in commerce transaction flows, as well as the emerging role of new technologies in solving commerce use cases.  On the second day, the group discussed issues surrounding adoption of W3C standards in the commerce space (including payments), as well as industry priorities for standards in the near term.

Regulations Regarding EU Payments

During the past few years, the regulatory environment in Europe has been dominated by Payment Services Directive (PSD2).  This directive gives much more control of how user data is used to the users themselves. PSD2 adoption simultaneously promotes consumer benefiting competition as well as the need for stronger identity checks.  David Balaschk (Deutsche Bundesbank) walked the group through the current European regulatory landscape, progress on PSD2 implementations, and progress on supporting instant payments in Europe.

Verifiable Credentials and the Web

The Verifiable Credentials Working Group (VCWG)  joined the WCIG in discussion of topics associated closely with credentials and commerce on the web.

Dan Burnette, co-chair of the VCWG (ConsenSys) reviewed the progress on use cases and the data model for credentials.  He described a test suite designed to help validate proof of concept efforts, and discussed the ongoing adoption of VCWG work in financial services and trade organizations.

Next in the session, Manu Sporny (Digital Bazaar) examined use of new standards from the Web Authentication Working Group that have impact on credentials.  He offered a demo of the use of credentials in a custom-built Chromium browser.  During the demo the group examined the issues of using a digital wallet to store credentials, and how private keys can be handled.

Kim Duffy (Learning Machine) and Joe Andrieu (Legendary Requirements), co-chairs of the Credentials Community Group, helped the group understand upcoming developments and potential standardizations in the credentials area.  Linda Toth (Conexxus) presented the progress in implementing a Digital Offers Ecosystem and the potential standardization opportunities for the W3C in those efforts. 

Hyperledger

Arnaud Le Hors (IBM) gave a talk on Hyperledger, a Linux Foundation project.  Hyperledger is an open source, distributed ledger on blockchain.  In the course of the discussion, Arnaud referenced different commerce related implementations using Hyperledger such as Everledger and Food Trust.  The main uses for blockchains in commerce focus on areas where shared and consensually verified data is required.  He highlighted the differences between implementations that require privacy vs. classic blockchain examples like BitCoin, and also discussed the many feature contributions to the Hyperledger framework.

Digital Contracts 

Contracts, implicit and explicit, are at the core of all commerce.  Allen Brown (Deixis) gave a detailed and forward thinking presentation on how contracts might be digitized on distributed ledgers.  He discussed the mathematical basis of digital contracts, and how digital contracts can control and record the execution of actions addressed by the contracts.  Keeping the contracts and the resulting threads of execution visible between parties – using blockchain ledgers – could make automating contracts easier.  In contrast to some other efforts to share contracts using blockchains, the introduction of a mathematical basis for contracts makes it possible to certify (or “prove”) that important contract components actually do what they’re intended to do.

Merchant Adoption

The Payment Request API, authored by the W3C Web Payments Working Group, is now shipping in all major browsers and is increasingly supported in gateway libraries.   Ian Jacobs (W3C) led the session where the group discussed outreach to merchants and service providers.  The scalability that the Payment Request API can provide will be a substantial benefit to both consumers and implementers once it’s more widely adopted.

Gildas Le Louarn (Lyra Networks) began by presenting a thoughtful exploration of issues that merchants, consumers, and service providers have with the uptake of current W3C payment standards.  By providing both “pros” and “cons” from the perspective of the stakeholders, he exposed numerous areas for continued discussion on topics including consistency of both the user and the implementer experience, as well as security concerns.

Continuing discussion, the group examined how existing on-line in-app mobile applications (e.g. loyalty) allow merchants or loyalty providers to tailor the payment experience to some extent.

Industry Priorities

In the wrap-up session, the WCIG discussed continuing issues with current implementations as well as additional topics to watch:

  • Transaction abandonment continues to be a problem for Web commerce and mobile commerce in general.
  • Merchants and service providers are involved at W3C, but more involvement from issuing banks is essential.
  • Browser vendors will continue to work to improve the user experience aspects of Payment Request API.
  • New technologies such as VR and AR (XR) provide new challenges for creating an integrated user experience.
  • Support for “order ahead” as well as potential uses for blockchain technology in commerce are in discussion in merchant groups today.
  • Merchants continue to deploy in-app applicationseven though consumers show signs of app fatigue.

The group finished the meeting with a reminder of the on-going monthly teleconferences for the WCIG (the next one is scheduled for January 28) and a call for topics for future meetings.

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The Commerce Enabled Web: Kicking off the Web Commerce Interest Group at TPAC 2017

Two weeks before Black Friday 2017, the W3C Web Commerce Interest Group had its inaugural meeting.  The meeting was part of the annual TPAC meetings, and was held in Burlingame, California. The agenda and minutes are available.

I know you’re thinking: “Isn’t the Web already the number-one commerce driver?  Aren’t you a little late to the party?”  The answers are “yes” and “no.”  The Web continues to have ripe opportunities for standardizing a multitude of activities that can benefit commerce.  While we do a lot of commerce on the Web today, much of the infrastructure is “invented as needed” and non-standard, and under those conditions implementations introduce complexity and barriers to entry.

Some Early History – Web Commerce and W3C

On August 22, 1994, I witnessed a demonstration of PizzaNet at the SCO Forum[1] at UCSC.  This demonstration featured a web page through which you could order pizza.  The project was a collaboration between the Santa Cruz Operation and PizzaHut, Inc., and the original PizzaNet is still reachable on the Web.  The demonstration took about an hour because the delivery driver didn’t have a GPS or any other way to find us.  And payment was made with a ten-dollar bill.

A little over a month later, in October, 1994, the W3C was founded.  So, why, at this late date, would the W3C form a Web Commerce Interest Group? Continue reading

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