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When a company constructs a building, a contractor is hired and plans are drawn to certain standards, such as minimum building codes. Those standards assure the owner that the walls will remain in place, corners are true, and users won’t be electrocuted or exposed to environmental hazards. More important, an independent third party checks the work for compliance with the standards and gives a written assessment. Unfortunately, the standards and inspections that go into a building are still in their infancy, if they exist at all, in the construction of many Web sites and the construction and operation of portals, ASPs, ISPs and others. While many of those operations must comply with minimal procedures to keep their domain names, few services or regulatory bodies confirm that a site, once constructed, will meet any kind of minimum standard beyond the contract specifications. Many Web site owners are naive when it comes to a Web site checklist. Items such as compatibility with multiple browsers and operating platforms, the ability to legally and accurately track use, update content, stop hackers, protect against viruses, recover from crashes, and accommodate multiple modem speeds must be dealt with. Outfits like VeriSign and TRUSTe will review digital signatures, security and the privacy controls at a site, but they have little enforcement power. To ensure that they are getting what they pay for in Web site development, many Web site owners and operators have hired consultants or relied upon loosely established industry practices and guidelines to obtain comfort that they have obtained their money’s worth for the completed work. While this is a good first step, it leaves many businesses wondering if a consultant to oversee the Web site developer is a necessary expense or a luxury they cannot afford. As a result, Web site quality in both quantifiable functional performance and subjective design are unique to each negotiation. Imagine if cities and residences varied in safety and utility operations based on the negotiating strength of each respective owner and builder. One question is who has authority or jurisdiction to set standards for such development. Should it be an international agency or another U.S. initiative. While ICANN loosely regulates domain names, even that international organization has not been forthcoming with definitive rules that could protect the innocent from making bad choices in the limited area of domain name selection and how best to avoid liability. And since the transfer of power to ICANN from the U.S. Department of Commerce, ICANN’s authority has often been questioned. What’s needed is an organization that would publish guidelines and eventually could have some authority, perhaps through ICANN, to develop standards for components of Web sites. The criteria would include areas such as security, shopping carts, privacy and access speed. The organization could issue at least the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that would be accepted by the industry and public. One set of rules for protecting the transmission of data, maintaining access speeds and providing security already exists, but on an entirely different Internet. The academic community, which fostered and refined the original Internet, is at it again. Universities have become dissatisfied with the tremendous flow of traffic that has slowed down their transmissions of large and complex research files. So, they created what may be the future of the current Internet and called it Internet2. Internet2 has solved the issue of standards by employing what it refers to as “middleware.” Middleware acts as middleman between the ethos of the Internet and the patchwork underworld of user applications and hookups. As a part of Internet2, middleware standardizes the way in which transmissions are secured, high-speed traffic is maintained or accelerated, and security provides protection against hackers and viruses. Middleware includes authentication, authorization and accounting to allow software to be shared by many organizations. Internet2 should not be confused with Next Generation Internet, or NGI, a governmental program, sponsored by the Clinton administration to the tune of approximately $300 million in grants over three years, which can be studied in more detail at NGI. NGI has developed a means of speeding transmissions on the Internet by 100 to 1,000 times. Data can move at approximately 1 billion bits per second, the equivalent of the entire Encyclopedia Britannica being transmitted in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, Internet2 and NGI are off-world colonies. Internet2 is limited to approximately 180 universities, which use it to promote research and instruction, enable the development of advanced network application services and content, and allow these universities to collaborate on various research projects, services and content. NGI networks industry and government research institutions. The leading Internet2 network in the U.S. is named Abilene and it is under the control of the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development. Businesses are allowed in only as a result of collaborative efforts in instructional clinics or research projects, services or content. Significant traffic between corporate sites using Internet2 is currently prohibited. In this research environment, however, Internet2 is developing advanced applications to provide security, authentication and other development tools that will provide direction for commercial Internet applications. Although Internet2 is off limits for now, there is always the possibility that the concept of middleware could be applied to the commercial Internet, even if in a less pristine environment. The concepts and standards in Internet2′s middleware could serve as an objective to be reached by researchers on a profit or non-profit basis. Or perhaps it is time for the development of a commercial version or division of Internet2 with a premium for commercial users to defray the cost of research. The same applies to NGI. The concept of middleware bundled into the current commercial Internet would be one way to ensure a uniform standard for components used in the building and operation of Web sites that businesses could depend on. As with anything that offers a minimum standard, middleware or its commercial counterpart could always be improved upon. With all the construction on the Internet, these standards should provide ample opportunity for entrepreneurs, as well as Web site building inspectors, to participate in a growing industry that answers the call for standards. Scott Austin advises software developers, e-commerce and high technology companies as a partner in the Miami office of Bilzin Sumberg Dunn Baena Price & Axelrod. He can be reached at [email protected].

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