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Shopping Online And Having Your Salesclerk, Too

Bits & Bytes


ONE OF THE GREAT DISADVANTAGES of shopping on the World Wide Web is that there aren't sales clerks around to answer those on-the-spot questions. Now, two software companies have setups that will bring clerks running to your aid.

WebLine Communications Corp., in Burlington, Mass., is introducing a Java-based program on Aug. 25 that's geared toward enhancing business-to-business Web commerce. Called WebLine, it enables customers visiting a company's virtual storefront to electronically alert a sales representative when they need help. By entering a phone number, customers can expect a phone call from a company sales rep while they continue browsing the Web site. Once a sales rep is connected electronically to the buyer, additional information--a comparison of its products and a competitor's, for instance--can be sent over the Web. The company will license the software, which will work through any corporate firewall, for $25,000.

eFusion Inc.,in Beaverton, Ore.,hasa different solution. It sells a$150,000-plus program called eBridge Interactive Web Responsesystem, which connects a company's Web server to its telephone call center. When customers with a multimedia PC are ready to buy from a Web site, they merely click on a button and get placed in the same holding queue as customers calling the company's toll-free phone line. The microphone and speakers on the customer's PC act as a speakerphone, so asking questions or completing the order simply means talking into the PC. eFusion says six top telecommunications companies are testing eBridge.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENGReturn to top


WHILE MANY NETIZENS ARE still wary of security, banks are eager to offer home-banking services on the Net. First Union Corp. in Charlotte, N.C., hopes to allay concerns by hooking up with giant GTE Corp.

The security setup developed by GTE uses "keys" and a scheme known as "digital certificates." One key resides on the customer's home PC and uses a complex algorithm to create a digital certificate, or unique identifier. When the customer's PC connects with the bank's computers, the certificate is sent to the bank and decoded by a matching key, verifying that the PC dialing in is a recognized client. First Union's banking service is one of the first to use digital certificates. Most other home-banking systems rely on the simple security mechanisms built into Web browsers, which can be cracked by hackers. About 300 First Union clients will participate in a field test of the setup in September.

GTE, which through its research and development unit has worked for years with the U.S. military on security programming, plans more products. For example, it's developing a setup for the entertainment industry to allow safe transmission of a movie from a studio to a special-effects shop.By Susan Jackson EDITED BY PAUL M. ENGReturn to top


WITH THE VAST AMOUNT OF data on the Internet, finding just the right piece of information often seems like a frustrating game of "Where's Waldo?" At least that's what Inmedia Inc., a Web design firm in Dallas, thought. So why not bring Waldo to the Web?

The company licensed the successful hide-and-seek kids book character from artist Martin Handford and Where's Waldo? Inc., to create the official Where's Waldo? Web site, The site features the busy "find Waldo" landscapes, samples of Handford's art for downloading, Waldo chat rooms, trivia, and online games.

In celebration of Waldo's 10th anniversary the Web site is also holding an online contest that invites participants to help Waldo find five secret scrolls hidden on sponsors' Web sites. Successful seekers can register for daily drawings, winning various prizes from sponsors including Applebee's Restaurants, Campbell Soup, Fox Home Entertainment, and Quaker Oats.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENGReturn to top

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