The second generation of the Internet will be built on four foundations, according to experts at the Online Developers' show in San Francisco yesterday - commerce, 3D, video and chat.
The conference - subtitled 'Building to the Bandwidth' - was hosted by New York-based online market research firm Jupiter Communications, and examined the current state of the Internet-centric industry and the future directions it is likely to take.
The financial services industry is set to be a major driver, according to Dudley Nigg, executive vice president at Wells Fargo bank and chairman of the US Mondex smartcard operation. "You can see the superior value delivered to the consumer because of the lower cost channel [of the Internet]," he said. He supported his claim by citing an example from the brokerage sector where a few years ago it would have cost $200 to complete a transaction that now costs less than $15.
He dismissed the commonly held belief that it is difficult to make money from online banking, arguing that the increased access offered to consumers by the Internet actually encourages them to consolidate their business with one supplier. For example, if banking is done via a Web site rather than a branch, there is no need to tamper with an account just because your physical location alters.
Nigg said that he saw a 'killer application' in the form of bill presenting, which he forecast would become a widespread offering from financial insitutions in the near future. Essentially this entails companies posting bills to their customers on a Web site, thus eliminating much of the administrative and mailing costs of conventional methods. In turn, the customers can settle their dues electronically. "This reduces the cost to the biller by up to 50 per cent and costs the customer nothing," he explained.
Inevitably, given his role as US chairman of Mondex, Nigg sees smartcard technology as the other major factor in encouraging the growth of electronic commerce. "A smartcard with an embedded certificate can act as authentication for customes in multiple devices," he explained. "It can act as the basis of a digital cash infrastructure. It can also make micropayments more effective and you can't have a payment system that doesn't allow you to handle small payments."
Kai-Fu Lee, president of Silicon Graphics' Internet 3D subsidiary Cosmo Software, spoke of the Web's transition from what he called a "page-based paradigm based on information" to a more sophisticated graphically-based environment. "Our vision of the next Web is one that is engaging, realistic, intuitive and interactive with 3D as its cornerstone," he explained.
"The second Web will be evolutionary," he added, demonstrating some examples of Cosmo's products in action. "Web browsers will become 3D-enabled and this will drive demand." He said the endorsement of VRML 2.0 as a full ISO standard as well as its acceptance by both Microsoft and Netscape would enable this to happen.
Video streaming will also play its part in shaping a new Internet, according to Staffan Ericsson, chairman of Vivo Software, although it will be put to better use than the technology currently is - the biggest presence currently is on so-called 'adult entertainment' Web sites where it is used to feed in hard core pornography. "All industries go through an adolescence," Ericsson noted.
Meanwhile Andrew Busey, chief techical officer of iChat, argued that bulletin boards, buddy lists and email systems in general had yet to achieve their full business-centric potential within the commercial enterprise. When integrated into a complete Intranet and Extranet infrastructure, such technology could be used for a multitude of purposes, from collaborative planning meetings to arranging a weekend's game of golf, he argued.
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