ACM Conference on Electronic Commerce (EC’05)

ACM Conference on Electronic Commerce (EC’05)
June 5-8, 2005
Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle

Society sponsor: ACM Special Interest Group on E-Commerce (SIGECOM)
Conference Web Site:

Since 1999 the ACM Special Interest Group on Electronic Commerce (SIGECOM) has sponsored the leading scientific conference on advances in theory, systems, and applications for electronic commerce. The Sixth ACM Conference on Electronic Commerce (EC’05) will feature paper presentations, workshops, and tutorials covering all areas of electronic commerce. The natural focus of the conference is on computer science issues, but the conference is interdisciplinary in nature, addressing the following topics:

Algorithmic mechanism design
Auction and negotiation technology
Automated shopping, trading, and contract management
Computational finance
Computational game theory and economics
Computational markets for information services
Databases and online transaction processing
Experience with fielded electronic-commerce systems
Formation of supply chains, coalitions, and virtual enterprises
Information markets
Intellectual property and digital rights management
Languages for describing goods, services, and contracts
Legal, political, and social issues
Marketing and advertising technology
Payment and exchange protocols
Recommendation, reputation, and trust systems
Security and privacy issues in electronic commerce
Software and systems requirements, architectures, and performance
User-interface issues in electronic commerce

This list is meant to be representative but not exhaustive.

The conference will be held from Sunday June 5th through Wednesday June 8th 2005 in beautiful Vancouver, Canada at the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle.

Tutorials and workshops will be held on Sunday, June 5th. Papers and invited talks will be presented beginning on the morning of Monday, June 6th and running through noon on Wednesday, June 8th. More detailed program and schedule information will be released as it develops.

Sergei Burkov of Dulance asked via email:

Any idea how many products are out there?

This can probably be derived from the total number of UPC codes issued, or something. (We can probably ignore products for which no code of any type has been issued.)

Is there an estimate how many different products are sold on the world’s markets today?

Ross Stapleton-Gray responded:

According to Peter Hurtubise at QRS, the QRS Catalogue is now up to 100 million entries (up from c. 80 million a few years ago). NB that QRS is GMA-focused [GMA being General Merchandise and Apparel], so some large swath of that will be every variation of every size of a particular article of clothing, say.

I’ve a couple of my own questions that would help illuminate this space; most could probably be answered by a QRS, or one of the major retailers, but they’d unfortunately see them as rather sensitive. A big one would be (for Target, or Wal-Mart): what is the total SKU or product code count for what you carry (my guess is that it’s in the several tens of thousands… perhaps several times higher if they’ve got a lot of apparal)? Of that, how many manufacturers would account for 90% of the total product count? Of 99%? My guess is that a relatively smallish number (say, 500) might produce the 90% coverage. That’s distinct from (though these would be other numbers worth knowing) the *unit* count of goods inventoried/sold.

And so we continue the search for an answer of how many products are out there…

Kragen notes that most products don’t come from companies or even people rich enough to be assigned product codes, as related to his essay on the long tail of ecommerce. Also, if we take into account that, for example, in a pack of colored markers each marker should have its own product code (and not just the pack), or that a Spiderman-contest-branded can of Diet Dr. Pepper should have a different product code than a regular can of Diet Dr. Pepper… well, there are likely to be at least an order of magnitude more products than we think of as “product coded” today.

Cool use of Amazon Web Services: ScoutPal

Use ScoutPal with any web-enabled cell phone or wireless PDA and find out the Amazon Marketplace value of books, CD’s, DVD’s, Video Tapes, or any other Amazon Marketplace Merchandise, while you are out bookscouting.

How many times have you come back from bookscouting with essentially worthless books? How many times have you passed over a book, only to find out later, when you look it up again on Amazon, that it was valuable and in high demand?

Bookscouting with ScoutPal is like hunting with Radar

You can quickly comb through stacks of books, zero in on the gems, and find the treasure!

ScoutPal is simple and easy to use. Just enter the ISBNs or UPCs, and ScoutPal will “Fetch” the information you need, and quickly present it to you in a concise form. Results include a summary of market prices and quantities, sales rank, editions and availability, and used/new/collectible details. You can customize the content and format of your results, and switch formats at anytime. You can also be alerted if there are Buyers Waiting.

Jeff Bezos mentioned this company at Web 2.0 as an example of the kind of one-person innovative offering that Amazon Web Services unleash.

It’s interesting to see an CommerceNet alum Bob Glushko in the news. The comment, though, is a telling one, since if anything CommerceNet is firmly on the same side as Halsey in its committment to open business service networks. On the other hand, a decentralized aspect of that vision is that you should always be able to run your “own” GrandCentral-like service, too.

Not to mention that we need to all work together to continue to evolve WS interoperability to include real-time, async events — the need for a two-way GrandCentral with notifications more powerful (& scriptable) than, say, email…

The New York Times > Technology > Is It Still Called a Venture Fund When You Use Your Own Money?

Moreover, there is a nagging question confronting Grand Central and every other company pursuing the on-demand model. Will large corporations ever feel comfortable with a solution that means placing valuable data outside their computer security systems, or will they stick with solutions that remains safely inside their networks and delivered on individual computers?

“The Grand Central hosting approach might appeal to small firms that need just a few services, but most big enterprises aren’t going to yield this control to a third party,” said Robert J. Glushko, an entrepreneur before taking a teaching post at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California, Berkeley. “So there’s a business model there, but it may not be a very big one.”

Nick Wingfield has a compelling piece titled Taking on eBay on page R10 of today’s Wall Street Journal.

His main point is that the dustbins of history are filled with those who tried to compete directly against eBay in the broad online-auction market; however, there are pockets of energy where vibrant challengers are able to compete, including:

  • Event guarantees that buyers will receive tickets in time for events. eBay doesn’t guarantee timeliness.
  • lists classified ads, and as a result has many more listings; furthermore, customers need not purchase their vehicles online. eBay only allows online purchases.
  • Real Estate — The multiple-listings service realtors have relied on for years efficiently advertises homes through a variety of venues including the realtors’ own sites. eBay only has single-site listing, with no syndication.
  • Books, Music, already has a huge business allowing individuals and small merchants to sell these items. eBay, unlike Amazon, does not have “item authority” for a wealth of products, giving customers different buying choices for any given product (Amazon new or merchants used).

eBay may have a wonderful business, but it cannot be everything to everyone. There will never be a single marketplace for all transactions on the Internet, and that’s a good thing.

Longer term, Nick Wingfield evokes the ghost of Paul Ford (see: August 2009 — How Google beat Amazon and Ebay to the Semantic Web), stating

There could still be long-term threats to eBay’s overall franchise. Google, Yahoo, and other search engines could eventually challenge eBay’s dominance if small businesses, which make up the vast majority of sellers on eBay, decide they can do better by advertising on search engines to draw customers to their own Web sites.

That scenario is particularly intriguing to us at CommerceNet, for it points to decentralized e-commerce: a world in which, rather than coming to a common place like eBay to transact, buyers and sellers can transact on their own terms, freeing them to transact in innovative ways, the way real society does business outside the Internet today. Imaginging eBay without the eBay isn’t as hard as it seems.

Amit Patel wrote about a 1996 piece from Hal Varian on differential pricing:

I had thought that charging customers different prices for the same thing was unfair and the result of pure greediness. But Hal Varian explains why “differential pricing” might be better than fixed pricing, especially in industries with high fixed costs. One of the arguments boils down to: if some people are willing to pay more than others and the fixed costs are high, then you can end up in a situation where it is worse for the consumers (as a group) to all have the same price than to have different prices. The producer usually benefits from differential pricing, but in many (most?) situations the consumer does too. One case in particular is when the producer would go out of business without differential pricing; there is no benefit to the consumer of losing the opportunity of purchasing a product or service.

My sense of fairness says you should charge the same amount for the same thing, but the math shows that society is (overall) better off with less fairness.

“Fairness” is in the eye of the beholder.

Internet News talks about Amazon’s forthcoming release of Amazon Web Services 4, pointing out the utility of shopping cart web services:

The Amazon shopping cart in AWS 4.0 now permits application users to add items to the Amazon Save for Later cart. Shopping cart abandonment continues to be a major problem for the e-commerce industry. A recent DoubleClick study showed that 57 percent of all carts are abandoned by shoppers and only 26.5 percent of them will come back to actually make a purchase.

What might come in Amazon Web Services 5? Mod-pubsub speculates “PubSub Amazon Web Services”, citing ZapThink senior analyst Jason Bloomberg:

Amazon Web Services 4 is still entirely request-reply in structure, which is adequate for supporting Web interfaces, but would not be sufficient or incorporating into more general business processes, or more broadly, into Service-Oriented Architectures, which require asynchronous Services.

Shopping Cart Services + PubSub Services = ?

Last night we stumbled on the Internet UPC Database, a hack that offers a public database of products and their Universal Product Codes. Anyone can submit new codes or search the database of codes. For example, here’s Diet Cherry Coke. Even more interesting is that a Google search for Diet Cherry Coke’s UPC number points you to the item. Which is even more astounding when you realize that the guy launched the service just seven months ago, and already has some extraordinary statistics:

Known Manufacturer Entries: 1058
UPC Entries: 805229
Distributable UPC Entries: 486416 (60.4%)
Unique Mfr ID’s Represented: 44333
Average Items per Mfr ID: 18.2
Total size of database (approx.): 53.5 MB
Update Requests Pending: 139

Too bad there’s no web service interface so we could start doing some interesting hacks…

The Now Economy is a meme of many trends, not least of which is the import of mass customization and rapid prototyping’s role in the manufacturing cycle. In the middle of this Slate article is an excellent example of this vision:

Made to Order – How industrial design became a weekend hobby. By Clive Thompson

Do-it-yourself design will get really interesting when inventors are able to sketch something out and then hold the thing in their hands within a matter of minutes. Today, rapid-prototyping technology—that is, 3-D printers that can instantly crank out a physical copy of anything you design on a computer—is available only to elite design firms. It’ll get cheaper within years. Meanwhile, “original design manufacturing” companies overseas are becoming expert at quickly and cheaply cranking out MP3 players and laptops to specs set by brand-name firms like Virgin or Sony. Put those trends together, and it’s easy to envision an offshore service that will take my personal design for a music player and crank out 10 copies. Presto: the Clive brand MP3 player! Think of it as vanity electronics—casemodding on a superfast, global scale.

Paul Ford wrote a compelling vision two years ago:

The Marketplace Manager, or MM, looked like a regular spreadsheet and allowed you to list information about yourself, what you wanted to sell, what you wanted to buy, and so forth. MM was essentially an “logical statement editor,” disguised as a spreadsheet. People entered their names, addresses, and other relevant information about themselves, then they entered what they were selling, and MM saved RDF-formatted files to the server of their choice – and sent a “ping” to Google which told the search engine to update their index.

When it came out, the MM was a little bit magical. Let’s say you wanted to sell a book. You entered “Book” in the category and MM queried the Open Product Taxonomy, then came back and asked you to identify whether it was a hardcover book, softcover, used, new, collectible, and so forth. The Open Product Taxonomy is a structured thesaurus, essentially, of product types, and it’s quickly becoming the absolute standard for representing products for sale.

Then you enter an ISBN number from the back of the book, hit return, and the MM automatically fills in the author, copyright, number of pages, and a field for notes – it just queries a server for the RDF, gets it, chews it up, and gives it to you. If you were a small publishing house, you could list your catalog. If you had a first edition Grapes of Wrath you could describe it and give it a lowest acceptable price, and it’d appear in Google Auctions. Most of the smarts in the MM were actually on the server, as Google interpreted what was entered and adapted the spreadsheet around it. If you entered car, it asked for color. If you entered wine, it asked for vintage, vineyard, number of bottles. Then, when someone searched for 1998 Merlot, your bottle was high on the list.

Now imagine taking that vision — and decentralizing it… that would assuage some of Paul Ford’s fears:

See, I get worried about Google. They’re beginning to control a space that is essential for open dissemination of information. So far they have only demonstrated excellent intentions, but the invisible hand of the market is quite a thing, and you often find it stuck right up your ass, or in your pocket looking for your wallet. Google is there to make money. There is nothing evil about that, but corporate money making is not necessarily in the people’s interests, and even companies that appear to have great intentions are forced to make difficult decisions that ultimately screw the consumer. When companies have power – and Google is getting real power over the way that information is disseminated – they need to be watched carefully.

Not that Google isn’t sweet.

In some ways I wish there was an effort to create a P2P hugely-scaleable redundant spidering tool – exactly what Google has, but with a few million nodes on shared computers. Even better, if I could run an indexing algorithm against my own site, store the data locally, and report an overview (word list) via metadata – well, that would be snazzy, if a bit difficult to implement. Then, every relevant query via the P2P-based search mechanism could query my local server for full results…

I’m telling you, if you’d only listen, that spreadsheets are important to the future of the Internet. Not the gunky ones we have now, but super-futuristic ultra-spreadsheets. Say I wanted to sell my books, and put an ISBN number into a spreadsheet, and then applied a Semantic Web-based function. So I have ISBN 2884838483, and I enter as the function. This goes out talks to the Library of Congress, which spits back a nice MARC record, and an XSLT script converts that an RDF descriptions according to the Open Products Hierarchy, and fills in title, author, publisher, number of pages, just like that in the spreadsheet. And each of those items can be related to other information, because there’s a standard way to define data interchange (XML) and the actual structure of the data (RDF). Web-as-spreadsheet is fun to think about, I swear.