IETF wades in to sort out Internet commerce protocols

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is forming a working group to bring some order to a myriad of existing Internet-commerce protocols that are threatening to retard the development of a new digital economy. The IETF will also take responsibility for further development of the Internet Open Trading Protocol (IOTP) originally developed by the Open Trading Protocol (OTP) Consortium. The IOTP protocol is intended to encapsulate a variety of payment systems including Secure Electronic Transactions, Mondex, CyberCash, DigiCash, Geldkarte, and others.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is forming a working group to bring some order to a myriad of existing Internet-commerce protocols that are threatening to retard the development of a new digital economy.

As part of that effort, the IETF will take responsibility for further development of the Internet Open Trading Protocol (IOTP), which was originally developed by the Open Trading Protocol (OTP) Consortium. The IOTP protocol is intended to encapsulate a variety of payment systems including Secure Electronic Transactions, Mondex, CyberCash, DigiCash, Geldkarte, and others.

Vendors that contributed to the development of the IOTP specification include AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, MasterCard International, Mondex, Open Market, Hitachi, IBM, Netscape Communications, Nokia Corp., Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and VeriFone.

For IT managers, the IETF effort could lead to a single robust protocol that could spur the development of I-commerce applications that become widely deployed.

"OTP is one of the strongest business-to-business Internet-commerce protocols out there," said Vernon Keenan, a senior analyst at Zona Research, a market research company in Redwood City, California.

"IT managers should be grateful that the premier Internet standards body is taking up OTP. It's a step forward for creating more interoperable Internet-commerce systems," Keenan said.

Benefits of such a unified protocol are expected to extend down to both retailers and consumers, an IETF engineer said.

"Products incorporating IOTP will make both shopping by consumers, and adding payment systems by merchants, easier by partially automating payment method selection," said Donald E. Eastlake, chair of the new work group and principal systems engineer at CyberCash, in Reston, Virginia.

"IOTP will increase merchant flexibility by providing a standard way to handle some of the messages involved if different merchant roles -- such as a store front, payment handling, and delivery -- are placed on different Internet hosts," Eastlake said.

The OTP Consortium will continue to promote and market the protocol while the IETF focuses on engineering the specification, according to Eastlake. Because the group is still being formed, there is no date on an IOTP, Version 2, release.

The Internet Engineering Task Force can be reached at http://www.ietf.org.

The Open Trading Protocol Consortium can be reached at http://www.otp.org.

Creating Payment Standards

The Internet Open Trading Protocol will encapsulate a handful of payment systems.

Secure Electronic Transaction -- spearheaded by Visa and Mastercard

Mondex -- electronic cash-card technology from vendor Mondex, owned by Mastercard

ECash -- another electronic cash-card technology from DigiCash, a private, venture-capital-backed company

Geldkarte -- German National Purse, a multiapplication smart card

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