3 E-commerce applications

3.5 Other commercial websites

So far I have detailed e-commerce applications which are connected with very large organisations; to conclude this section it is worth looking at a number of smaller applications, many of which are distinguished by the fact that they are novel. They are in contrast to the applications discussed in previous subsections which mainly consist of standard functions such as order processing.

eCoverage and disintermediation

An increasingly popular e-commerce enterprise which does not involve e-tailing is that of quote finding. For example, a number of companies have set up websites which enable you to get quotes on various types of insurance policies including those for car, property and life insurance. One of the pioneers in this area is eCoverage who provide online car insurance quotes and who boast that it can insure you in minutes. This is an example of a growing trend in e-commerce applications: the cutting out of intermediaries; in the case of insurance this is the insurance broker. This is a process known as disintermediation.

3.5.1 Anonymous remailers

An anonymous remailer is a website which enables you to send an email anonymously to some recipient. The main reason for this is to do with something known as spam. This term describes unsolicited email which tries to sell the recipient something.

Spam

Throughout the internet you can find email addresses. They can be found embedded in web pages in the member's directories of internet service providers and in newsgroups. There are a number of companies who use programs known as spiders or address harvesters to search the internet for such addresses. These are then written to a file and sold to individuals and companies who then send bulk emails to the unlucky recipients. Often these emails are part of some crime such as selling bogus insurance policies. Spam is universally detested by internet users. Its name is derived from the Monty Python sketch which takes place in a café where a number of Vikings rampage round the café repeatedly shouting out the words spam, spam, spam. If you have not met the terms internet service provider and newsgroup before do not worry: they are introduced later in the unit.

You log into the site and type any message that you want to send; it will then forward the message on to its recipient with a dummy email address for the sender.

3.5.2 Link checking sites

The World Wide Web contains millions of web pages. Many of these pages are impossible to read, even though many existing web pages will reference them: your browser will usually return with some message such as ‘Error 404 Page not Found’ when you try to access them. Error 404 is a standard message returned by web servers when a non-existent page is accessed. It is also the telephone area code for Atlanta in the United States; you will occasionally hear technical staff referring to non-existent web documents as having ‘gone to Atlanta’. There are two main reasons why a web document disappears from the World Wide Web: the first is that the developer or company might have deleted it, for example the company associated with the site has filed for bankruptcy or the individual who developed the site has moved it to another computer. The second reason is that the computer holding the web document is currently malfunctioning or has been switched off.

A link checking site is one to which you submit the address of a web page; it will store this address in a database and will then periodically check that the document is still accessible. If it discovers that a document is no longer available then it will email the customer who asked for the site to keep an eye on the document.

This is the type of service that technical staff who look after a collection of web documents find valuable; such staff, often known as webmasters (a term applied to both male and female staff, although the equivalent female term webmistress is very occasionally used), need to know very quickly when this happens. For example, the page that is no longer accessible could be the home page for a company that sells some goods through the internet: having web documents unavailable means that it effectively shuts the front door of the store to customers. Because speed in this case is essential a number of link checking sites offer webmasters a notification service via a customer's portable phone or pager.

3.5.3 Archive sites

These are websites which offer customers a facility for storing their files at a safe location. This guards against anything disastrous happening to the customer's computer and their losing valuable data. Often the files will be duplicated at a number of computers at different locations in order to guard against the possibility of one of the locations being affected by a natural disaster such as an earthquake, or a computer being affected by a catastrophic failure which results in its stored data being destroyed. The user of such a site usually registers with it using a name and a password; they are then presented with a set of instructions which take them through the process of collecting their files together to send to the remote location.

3.5.4 Change notification sites

These sites are a variation on link checking sites. Here, the customer is notified not when a web document becomes unavailable, but when the document is changed. For example, the customer might be interested in a particular page which advertises some holiday package offers to a particular destination and wants to keep abreast of any changes to the page which might signal the fact that a new improved offer has been added.

3.5.5 Email providers

These are sites which provide free email facilities; often they provide other facilities such as sending anonymous mail and constructing mailing lists. Such sites are valuable to users who are too impecunious to be able to afford conventional mailing software and to frequent travellers who can access such sites anywhere in the world. Their main disadvantage is that they tend to be slow compared with conventional mailing utilities such as Microsoft Outlook and Eudora.

B2B and B2C

The internet is awash with acronyms. Two acronyms used within e-commerce are B2B and B2C. The former stands for Business to (2) Business while the latter stands for Business to (2) Consumer. B2C is used to describe those business ventures which use internet technology to sell goods and services to internet users, for example the online selling of insurance policies is an example of B2C. B2B describes the use of the internet for business transactions between companies, for example the holding of online auctions of bulk commodities such as crude oil. Current business thinking is that although B2C applications receive the most publicity it is the B2B applications which will have the biggest financial impact. There is also C2C (Company to Company) which is business between companies, for example the use of a network when two companies join together in some commercial activity such as building a shopping complex. The acronym C2C is occasionally used to describe ventures where consumers interact together, for example bulk buying sites; in this case it stands for Consumer to (2) Consumer.