Internet Story: 02 Dec 1998
E-Wallet Imagine it; Manchester center on a Saturday afternoon a week before Christmas and you're just starting your season's gift buying. You step into a shop and you make a purchase. The shop assistant then asks you to fill out a form with your name, address, credit and shipping information, mother's maiden name, and what have you. That shop wouldn't see you for dust, would it?
Well that's what it's currently like shopping on the Web at the moment. Most online merchants ask you to enter all your personal, credit, and shipping information into a Web-based form each time you want to make a purchase.
You'll be pleased to know that there are solutions to this looming on the horizon. In the US a company called IdeaLab (Pasadena, California) is giving away a small browser addon, called eWallet, that keeps that information (entered only once) and passes it on to all those E-Shops when you make a purchase.
After browsing a site and making your selections, you click the eWallet icon in your Windows task bar, enter your PIN number, and drag your plastic of choice onto the site's order form. eWallet automatically fills in the necessary data; the site will prompt you to complete any blanks. You also are free to override any field eWallet has completed.
So what, you say, there are already schemes where I enter my data once and this is used by several shops. The difference here is that eWallet maintains your information on your PC and not in some central database with all the disadvantages that entails.
Next year, Idealab plans to build an auction capability into eWallet so you can shop by taking the lowest bid from several online merchants who offer the same item. Yet again, this should be great news for buyers and should stimulate competition in retailers further.
Micropayments Instant, easy and low payment for premium web site content has been the dream of many content provider for years now. A few years ago several attempts were made to create a system that automatically debited some kind of account that you paid into each time you accessed a premium page. So far none have ever worked for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the lack of standards. All this may be about to change as BT, IBM and Digital (now owned by Compaq) are about to release their micropayment systems. BT is about to release its BT Array micropayment system, this will allow payments as low as 10p. IBM have their IBM Micro Payment (imaginative title guys :-)) which will make payments as low as 1¢. Digital's MilliCent (I like this name :-)) has a granularity as fine as 0.1¢. A fourth company that has been around for a while, specializing in forms of e-payment is Cybercash. They also have a micropayment system, CyberCoin, which handles payments in 25p increments (in their UK offering, handled by Barclay's).
The major advantage of Micropayments is the anonymous nature of the payments. It's like using cash today - it's harder to gather information about the buyer with cash than with credit cards, etc.. Some analysts predict a very bright future for Micropayments, I think we will have to wait a few years before it is a commonly accepted method of doing e-business.
Jakob Nielsen's pearls of wisdom.
ComputerWorld - list of resources.
IT'S GOOD TO TALK! Just how good? Well, pretty soon you'll be able to get yourself a free personal phone number that will generate income for you. How's this work? Well, only in England (I just know someone's going to email me and say, "no we have that in Outer Mongolia"!), with its extortionate telecoms charges, is there enough "excess" in there to pay you back some of what it costs for people to call you (let alone pay for free ISP connectivity! - see Pendle.Net:Mailboxes page). What happens is you sign up with one of the free phone number distributors, like Connect Free, and when someone calls your new personal number it is redirected to a number of your choice (like your home phone number) and they get charged the normal long distance rates - you pocket about 1p/minute and the number provider pockets a small amount. This is great for people who are a long distance call away - they don't see any difference in their cost and you gain!
Another spin-off of this telecoms charging bonanza is, personal 0800 numbers. Ideal for those parents sending their kids off to college - they can always call home free of charge (7 or 8p/min to you). You can also use this facility to make cheap calls on your Orange phone - depends on what tariff you're on.
Andrew Stringer, © Pendle.Net Ltd, 1998