Update: Web payment standard to spur Web commerce
By Sari Kalin
Posted at 11:29 AM PT, Apr 18, 1996
An international standard for payment negotiations over the World Wide Web
will help further electronic commerce, according to leaders of a new industry
group that plans to hammer out such a standard.
The Joint Electronic Payments Initiative (JEPI) plans to develop and
demonstrate a middleware payment negotiation protocol in both the United
States and Europe by September. The initiative, announced Wednesday by the
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and CommerceNet, includes the key browser,
server, and payment method players in the Internet commerce market. Microsoft
Corp., Netscape Communications Corp., and CyberCash Inc. are among the
The problem of payment negotiation on the Web is one that has long since been
solved by customers and merchants in real-world stores. A store that accepts
MasterCard and Visa but doesn't take personal checks might have a sign by the
cash register indicating that policy. Or a cashier may ask customers how they
want to pay for their merchandise and then tell them what credit cards the
On the Web, however, no such standard exists to handle payment negotiations
between customers' browsers and merchants' servers. There's no standard way,
for example, to determine whether a customer is using a form of digital cash
or a smart card that a merchant can accept.
That's the gap that JEPI is seeking to fill, officials said.
"It's the little bit of glue that's needed to make the existing process
work," said Jim Miller, JEPI cochairman of the W3C.
Working with browser and server vendors, payment vendors, and merchants, JEPI
aims to build and pilot a standard Web client/server payment negotiation
method. The group then wants to publish the result as an open standard for
companies to incorporate in their products and to give it to a standards body
to maintain, officials said.
JEPI's work will dovetail with other electronic commerce initiatives, such as
the Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) standards being developed by
MasterCard International Inc. and Visa International Inc., officials said. SET
is a protocol for the secure exchange of credit card information over the
The JEPI middleware will be "the entry vehicle into SET, once you've decided
in fact that a credit card is what you want to [use]," said Tom Wills, senior
program manager for CommerceNet and cochairman of JEPI.
Analysts agreed that a standard for payment middleware is necessary, given
the proliferation of Web payment methods and protocols. The key is making sure
that key players such as Microsoft stick to the standard and don't try to
corner the market.
Even so, the lack of a good middleware layer isn't what's keeping people from
shopping on the Web, according to Stan LePeak, program director at Meta
Group, in Stamford, Conn.
"The big barriers to online shopping are lack of content and lack of people
willing to go through extra steps to do shopping," LePeak said. "This isn't
going to address that."
Core JEPI members who will contribute money and personnel to the research
initiative include IBM, Microsoft, Open Market Inc., CyberCash, VeriFone Inc.,
the Financial Services Technology Consortium, GC Tech, and the Open Software
Foundation, officials said.
Other participants include Bellcore, British Telecom PLC, Citibank, CUC
International, Deloitte & Touche Consulting, First Virtual Holdings Inc.,
France Telecom, Marshall Industries, Netscape, NTT Software Laboratories,
Nokia Mobile Phones Inc., Novell Inc., Oracle Corp., Sligos, Tandem Computers
Inc., the National Automated Clearing House Association, NetBill, the
University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute, Vendamall,
and Zenith Data Systems Corp.
The W3C, an industry consortium hosted by the MIT Laboratory for Computer
Science (in Cambridge, Mass.) and INRIA (in France), can be reached at
_http://www.w3.org_. CommerceNet, headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif., can be
reached at _http://www.commerce.net/_.
Sari Kalin is a correspondent for the IDG News Service, an InfoWorld affiliate.
The World Wide Web Consortium and CommerceNet will announce an
initiative Wednesday to unify all Web payment solutions.
The Joint Electronic Payments Initiative is intended to set a standard
negotiating mechanism for linking payment solutions such as IBM's Internet
Keyed Payment Protocols or Visa's and MasterCard's Secure Electronic
Transactions (SET) protocol, which allow online merchants to conduct
credit card transactions over the Internet.
Despite the W3C's influence, however, a new payment standard might
have trouble gaining support this late in the game. Key industry players,
such as Microsoft and Netscape Communications, have already thrown
their weight behind the SET initiative, encouraging observers who believed
that a single secure payment standard was already emerging.
Representatives of CommerceNet and the W3C, both industry trade
organizations, could not be reached for comment.