[Trends.com]
[Is It Commerce Yet?]

by
David Sims
Managing Editor

Web Review is published by Songline Studios, which is a subsidiary of O'Reilly & Associates.

This week at Meckler's Internet World in New York, O'Reilly & Associates will release the results of its third Internet survey, a report on how many Web servers are actually enabled to handle secure commercial transactions. O'Reilly's previous two reports focused on "Defining the Internet Opportunity" and "Conducting Business on the Internet."

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O'Reilly (the parent company to the publisher of Web Review) is best known as a book publisher and secondarily as a software developer of WebSite, WebBoard and PolyForm. Dick Peck, vice president for business development, says the company moved into research as a result of its early experiences trying to sell the first ads on the World Wide Web for its Global Network Navigator site.

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Peck says he and Dale Dougherty would try to sell to advertisers who fairly asked who was online, who would see their ads. "And of course we didn't really know," he says. "It got to the point where it was just a question of who would smile first, us or them."

The resulting report, published in summer 1995, was based on phone interviews with a randomly chosen population sample. It found some surprising results, including the finding that as many as one third of Internet users were women -- higher than similar surveys were reporting.

The second report, published in spring 1996, examined what Peck calls "the disparity between what people intended to do on the Internet, and what they were actually doing."

"Sixty percent of businesses said they were interested in using their Web sites for selling, marketing and customer service," he says. In fact, many were putting up Web sites and not doing much with them except watching them age. "The guys in the I.S. departments were using them somewhat, but that's about it."

The implication here is that the Gold Rush is far from over, and that the penetration of Internet awareness and usage is only skin deep in the body of American business.

This next report looks at how enabled the Web is for commerce. "If they're going to sell online," Peck says, "they need encryption, and they need a valid certificate from a third-party -- to authenticate who they are." (In fact, virtually all of these certificates come from one source: Verisign.)

Peck will present the results of the report at Internet World on Wednesday, and we'll summarize them here.

Netcraft snoops around

Netcraft So how does one survey the servers on the Web?

O'Reilly turned to a source that had already been doing just that: Netcraft, located in Bath in the U.K. Netcraft has surveyed the Web to see what server software Web sites are running. The results of its surveys have poked some holes in the common perceptions that Netscape and Microsoft dominate that market, finding that most sites still rely on shareware alternatives from Apache and NCSA.

Netcraft's Mike Prettejohn says they started the survey to demonstrate their capabilities as Internet consultants. "We thought it might look modestly impressive if we surveyed who was using what technology." This was around the time of Netscape's IPO, in the summer of 1995, "so we thought it might be topical."

What they found was that despite media hype, Netscape servers were comparatively rare. "If you just followed the media, you would think Netscape had that market sewn up," he says. "In fact, Netscape only had 13 to 14 percent."

Netcraft's interest in surveying secure sites on the Web grew in part out of its efforts to set up a secure site for a U.K. client. Prettejohn was surprised at how difficult it was to set up a site with accreditation from Verisign and strong encryption -- especially outside the U.S., since the U.S. bars export of its strong encryption technologies.

Mechanics of Netcraft's survey So how does one survey the servers on the Web? He was naturally curious how many sites were failing to accomplish this task, and with some prompting by others and the invitation from O'Reilly, set his surveying technology loose on the Net to chronicle the security at more than 650,000 Web sites.

Netcraft started with a list of domain names from NCSA's What's New Archive and the Netgen Comprehensive List of Sites, and supplemented this list with findings from a discovery script he set loose on the Net.

Next week, the results of those findings.

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