Web sites are getting smarter. They have to, otherwise they will wither on the vine. The “smarts” here concern building dynamic content from databases compiled and maintained separately from the Web server. Added to the model is transaction management, which tracks who accesses the data and how much data they acquire. This is increasingly important as online data vendors begin to sell their wares over the Net.
One of the first agencies to do something along these lines was the Companies Office (http://www.companies.govt.nz/), which provided two levels of information on New Zealand companies: the first level of information free and a more detailed view for a modest fee.
Eagle Technology (http://www.ea-gle.co.nz/) and Knowledge Basket (http://www.knowledge-basket.co.nz/) also offer access to online databases from the comfort of your Web browser. And more organisations are slated to bring out additional services.
But a new technique has popped up that allows the users to actually update the database from the browser. A good example of this type of site is AutoNet at http://www.autonet.co.nz/. This includes an interactive database where car dealers can place ads for their current crop of used vehicles. However, the interesting part is that the vendors can add vehicles or update their current listings from their shop. On top of that, AutoNet has the facility to incorporate images into the site.
The vendor captures an image of the car with a digital camera, logs into the AutoNet system via a user ID and password, downloads the image with some slick software developed by the people at AutoNet, enters the details and then sends it off to the main AutoNet server. The new ad is then added to the main directory. This way the content is kept current with hardly any intervention by the system administrator.
A similar site is iexchange at http://www.iexchange.co.nz/, which touts itself as “New Zealand’s best online trade and exchange publication”. Again, users can write their own ads and place them on the page by themselves. After three weeks, the ads are automatically deleted. The concept is exciting and it is only a matter of time before we see more applications of this type.
But serving data is only half the story. Tracking where it goes is the other half.
Oracle is in the process of rolling out Project Apollo, a scalable, Java-based transaction management tool. Apollo, integrated with a secure commerce transaction manager, will allow Webmasters to build fully-functional commercial sites with pre-formatted tools. Tracking users and purchases and securing payments will be easier than ever. Other vendors are also quickly jumping on the bandwagon.
The Apollo program also contains a module for customer loyalty where the system can be programmed to respond to clients based on their purchase or user patterns. So, for instance, a client might have purchased data in the past week dealing with a certain company. The program will then advise the client that further information is available on another database held at the same site. The opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling are enormous.
We are now starting to see major firms breaking into the commercial utilisation of the Net.
The opportunities are for database vendors to start integrating their data holdings, allow them to be maintained remotely, and served to clients regardless of location and operating systems. This type of commercial communication will drive the growth of the Net in the upcoming year.