Wikis and Commerce
While online search has made it easier to catalog and index the wealth of knowledge to be found across the entirety of the Web, wikis have consolidated this vast volume of information into well-organized online references built around user-based communities.
Created in 1994 by Ward Cunningham, a wiki is a platform in which multiple users are able to collectively contribute to a shared knowledge base. The crowdsourced nature of wikis gives individual users the ability to shape and inform the content in authentic ways that traditional information sources historically have not. Rather than presenting its information through the filter or with the bias of a centralized editorial control, wikis rely on peer-based writing, fact checking, editing, and moderation.
Many people find it uncomfortable that any random user can edit the content in a wiki unchecked, assuming that such lack of oversight reduces the reliability of the site. However, most wikis develop strong communities of dedicated volunteers to moderate the content on their sites and help to keep vandalism and other disruptive behavior in check. As Ward Cunningham himself has said, “Wikis work best in environments where you’re comfortable delegating control to the users of the system,” although he has also stated that, “With wiki, you have to trust people more than you have any reason to trust them. In 1995, it was a safer environment, don’t know if I could have launched wiki today.”
While Wikipedia is perhaps the most well-known and visited wiki, it is by no means the only one. Across the Web, thousands of wikis have been created that specialize in a broad range of special interests serving smaller, often underrepresented populations, giving each one a global voice that they would not have otherwise had.
Another phenomenon that has emerged from the growth of the Internet is e-commerce, or electronic commerce. With its global reach, the World Wide Web is a powerful tool for those who have something to sell. No longer is a retailer’s customer base limited to the local area within driving distance of a storefront. Now, the entire global online population can be potential customers.
New Business Models
By moving their business online, retailers have discovered a number of new and innovative ways to serve their customers.
Without the need for the physical presence of a so-called “brick and mortar” store, online retailers are often able to offer more efficient services and better pricing. Resources that would traditionally be spent on an elaborate showroom and hired salespeople can instead be redirected to an automated online storefront, improved products, and discounts on products and/or shipping costs.
Many consumers have embraced the convenient and hassle-free opportunity to shop online, just as previous generations did with mail-order catalogs. Only now, the online “catalog” offers a much richer and more informative shopping experience through the use of multimedia, user reviews, and personalized customer recommendations based on previous buying behavior.
Commerce is another area in which the democratizing effects of the Web can reveal themselves. With online auction sites like eBay or e-commerce sites for artisans like Etsy, individuals now have access to the same global market as the large, corporate retailers for selling their wares. This has sparked a boom in both the supply of and demand for custom-made and limited-production runs of unique new products and services that were either not available or not feasible before the advent of an e-commerce market.
For those independent sellers who envision creating a sustained business or a complete new product or service, crowdfunding uses online access to customers as a means of funding their project. In the past, clever entrepreneurs who had a brilliant idea for a new product might never have been able to bring that product to market due to lack of start-up funds (i.e., it takes money to make money). Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo were created to enable these innovators a way of reaching out to potential customers and recruiting them as backers who might help make their idea a reality by providing initial “investment” funding.
Credit Card Fraud, Network Attacks, and Phishing
Along with all of the advantages and consumer benefits that e-commerce has made possible, online shopping and electronic banking have also introduced a whole host of new risks that require addressing. While computational technology has streamlined the purchasing process by eliminating face-to-face sales and enabling much higher volumes of transactions to be made, those very same factors have made attacks on financial transactions much more of a problem.
For example, brick and mortar retailers using credit card scanners and electronic cash registers are vulnerable to attacks through these network-connected devices. These automated systems are desirable targets for attackers simply because their very function is to store and process large volumes of valuable information, such as credit card numbers and customer profile data. In recent years, a number of major retailers have accidentally exposed millions of customers’ financial data when their systems were attacked.
Another example is phishing, a practice used by malicious individuals who pose as legitimate banks or businesses in an attempt to trick customers into revealing their sensitive banking information.
A major focus of research in the computing industry centers on encryption techniques and standards for protecting sensitive data and on the design of more robust systems and procedures for making attacks more difficult to perform. Technologies such as Google Pay, Apple Pay, and other mobile payment systems are some of the most recent attempts to strengthen the security of electronic financial transactions.