learn a great deal about the behavior of their customers, which was very difficult in traditional retailing.

The Napster case shows that distributed, anonymous, peer-to-peer systems have arrived, whether we like them or not. Dr. Ling cited Napster as an interesting example, because it used centralized directory services, which created an entity that could be sued. Other distributors are not centralized and there is no one to sue. We must take this into account, he said, when we think of commerce in the next generation. The systems are here—anonymous, encrypted, completely decentralized.

Software as a Service

Version 2 of e-commerce, he said, will feature machine-to-machine commerce and less human-to-Web-site commerce. He cited a prediction27 that online retailers will become less integrated as their individual functions—customer contact, warehousing, billing, and shipping—are sliced off. New firms will be constructed from these slices that will operate by machines talking to machines. Customers will go to a service they trust that will recommend the products and they will go to another service to pick up the products. They may even fill the shopping cart from companies throughout the Web. New marketplaces will form with new market mechanisms such as compilatory auctions. New ways of measuring and maintaining a reputation will evolve.

Dr. Ling concluded by pointing out that software is changing from a commodity to a service. He said that researchers are concerned about their ability to quantify the amount of money going into software if people were to rent software that is tailored to their needs rather than buying shrink-wrapped boxes of software designed to broad standards. “Software as a service,” he concluded, “is definitely the trend.”

The Potential for Collaboration

Finally, Dr. Ling addressed the area of communications and collaboration, a “big, new application for computing” that started with e-mail and is moving on to AOL’s instant messaging and presence. There is enormous interest in additional conferencing and collaboration tools to allow remote collaborators to join as virtual work groups. Many firms are designing annotation functions to allow for “living documents” created by widely dispersed people who are able to make comments, ask questions, or post annotations. These annotations can all be searched and classified to distinguish private annotations, for example, from public questions from the audience or exam questions or answers to questions. All such tools have the ability to transform our educational process.

27  

S. Jurvetson. 1999. “From the Ground Floor,” Red Herring, <http://www.redherring.com/mag/issue72/news-groundfl.html>, November 1.



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