A pair of influential Internet consortia last week unveiled a standard that
would make it easier for users to install multiple electronic payment packages
on their systems.
The proliferation of 35 incompatible electronic payment schemes has stifled
electronic commerce the same way the split between Beta and VHS standards
stifled growth in the first days of video, according to the World Wide Web
Consortium (W3C), one of the bodies involved in the new development.
Currently, individual merchants face the unappealing option of either picking
one standard and alienating the consumers not subscribing to that standard or
supporting multiple standards, which entails additional time, effort and
The Joint Electronic Payments Initiative (JEPI) doesn't unite the
incompatible standards, but it at least makes it possible for vendors and
users to more easily support multiple software packages.
JEPI is a uniform application programming interface set designed to speed the
installation and configuration of payment software on Web servers and
browsers such as Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator or Microsoft
"In theory, this would simplify the work that IS managers [currently] have to
do to manually wrangle different payment systems and streamline
communications," said Scott Smith, an analyst at Jupiter Communications in New
York. "Anything you can do to lower that hurdle is better."
The way on-line payments work now, users install client software packages,
sometimes known as "electronic wallets," on their browsers. This software then
communicates with "electronic cash registers" that run on merchants' Web
servers. Each vendor's client works with only that vendor's own server
Ed Van Herik, a home page editor for San Diego Power & Light Co., said JEPI
seems to be designed to solve the wrong problem. What worries firms most about
on-line sales isn't competing standards, he said. It is security.
"Many companies, including ours, are champing at the bit to take the next
step with Web sites and offer sales to create a total on-line market," Van
Herik said. "Until that issue is resolved, that's the main barrier."
But, Rohit Khare, a member of the technical staff at the consortium, said the
payment-processing software packages include encryption features designed to
enhance security. The JEPI standard should make it easier to use those
packages. JEPI was developed by W3C, a Cambridge, Mass., technical group that
develops standards for the Web, in conjunction with CommerceNet, an alliance
of 140 vendors and users doing business on the Internet.
--- Rohit Khare -- 617/253-5884 Technical Staff, World Wide Web Consortium NE43-354, MIT LCS, Cambridge, MA 02139