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Net commerce not quite ready for prime time

Submitted by on Saturday, 22 August 2009 No Comment

A newspaper video goes viral after FOX news links to it, but the video quickly becomes inaccessible when a contractor can’t handle the traffic. The contractor adjusts within an hour, but that’s 60 minutes that editors fret about lost views.

The NBA site creates a frustrating series of timeout errors several years in a row on the day tickets first become available. By the time potential customers can complete orders, popular games are sold out.

And car dealers say they can’t log onto the Cash for Clunkers Web site to submit invoices and other documents for hours on end Friday. They worry that they won’t be able to get the materials through the pipeline by the Monday deadline.

This must be what it was like when the automobile was invented and there simply weren’t enough roads for the growing traffic. The primitive byways could handle run-of-the loads, but add anything extra and everything jammed up.

It’s the same way today with the Net. The normal load is fine, except for slight slowdowns during the workday. Add a ticket sale there, a Cash for Clunkers there and everything stops.

Part of the solution lies with better planning. If you know  you’re doing something on your site that will bring in additional traffic, make adjustments.

The rest of the problem, though, lies in an infrastructure that simply isn’t mature – kind of like the highways of long ago.

Looking again at the case of Cash for Clunkers, an Internet interface makes much sense except for the part where dealers scan paperwork and then try to transmit it. That set-up puts double work on the dealers – create the documents, then re-create them in electronic form.

That problem won’t be solved until more official documents are electronic. Or until businesses are computerized enough that customers are creating the documents in digital formats instead of on paper, where the work has to either be keyed in later or scanned.

We can do this – just look at the way many of us fill out our tax forms. It’s possible, if your employer is efficient enough to allow you to retrieve your W2s electronically, to never have to key information in again once you’ve set up your program.

The first few years submitting the returns was a bit dicey on April 15, but that’s improved. And even at that, it was no worse than the traffic jam at any post office on deadline day.

It goes to show that cybercommerce on a widespread basis requires better planning – officials involved in Cash for Clunkers should start Monday-morning quarterbacking the program now to see what they and other agencies can learn.

And it also involves an investment in capacity, from the server level down to lines running into businesses and homes.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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