The Digital You

Web stores are challenged to find ways to turn browsers into buyers. Too often, potential buyers are turned off by all the long registration forms asking nosy questions and by seemingly endless order forms.

Web stores are challenged to find ways to turn browsers into buyers. Too often, potential buyers are turned off by all the long registration forms asking nosy questions and by seemingly endless order forms. According to Jupiter Communications, 27 percent of online consumers abandon the items they put into a shopping basket because they find filling out the necessary forms a hassle. And according to a recent Business Week/Harris Poll, 77 percent of Internet users haven't purchased a single thing online. Of this group, 86 percent cited lack of privacy as the most important reason for their nonbuying habits.

That's starting to change with initiatives from Microsoft and Novell, each of which is a variation on the same theme: giving Web users a single digital identity card they can use to fill in registration forms and supply credit card and shipping information to Web sites automatically.

With Microsoft's Passport, which has been in testing since the summer, you first create an account by--guess what?--filling out a form at www.passport.com. But that's the end of all the forms. As long as you shop at Passport-enabled sites, your Passport account will be accepted. To purchase goods at any participating site, you select a credit card and shipping address from your Passport wallet. Passport then encrypts and securely transfers the information to the merchant for transaction processing.

Merchants, who pay Microsoft an annual service fee based on Web site traffic, can implement the service by incorporating a Passport link into their sites and retrieving data posted from the Passport server. The service currently has a network of fifty Web merchants, including Barnesandnoble.com, Buy.com, and Dell.com.

Novell's Digitalme
Whereas Passport works only at participating sites, Novell's digitalme works not only at sites that are already digitalme-enabled but also at sites that aren't. If a site is digitalme-enabled, then whenever your personal data changes, all the digitalme-participating sites will be updated. For sites that aren't enabled, digitalme will take its best shot at filling out registration forms.

Billed as an "identity management" service and a platform for authentication, digitalme leverages the Novell Directory Services (NDS) to simplify Web shopping. According to Novell research, online users must remember an average of four passwords, and less than one user in five remembers to notify a Web site when personal information changes. Digitalme uses NDS technology to store passwords, user names, account numbers, bookmarks, and preferences. Your "vault" is stored remotely on digitalme servers so you can access it wherever you happen to be.

After filling out a Master Profile at www.digitalme.com, every time you want to register with a new site digitalme intercepts the registration forms, fills them out, and presents them to you for review. To digitalme-enable a site, a merchant must buy Novell's Identity Server, which maps XML tags to fields in the directory. America Online, Citigroup, and Compaq are among the digitalme partners.

The service goes a step further than Passport by letting you set up meCards, which contain different types of personal information for different audiences. For example, a meCard for friends might contain detailed personal information while a meCard for a Web site would omit certain information. There is also an address book and the instantme instant-messaging tool, which lets you chat with other instantme users as well as users of AOL Instant Messenger.

Novell plans to introduce additional services around its digitalme platform. To jump-start the development of services, the company plans to make the digitalme source code available on the digitalme site later this month.

Consolidated Accounts
Other Web account keepers include CyberCash, which launched its InstaBuy service this past summer. You can sign up for a free electronic wallet at any InstaBuy-enabled site or at www.instabuy.com. Once you register and supply your billing information, you can use the one-click service at more than 100 participating Web merchants. And Qpass's PowerWallet fills in any registration form on the Internet, manages online receipts, and keeps track of your user names and passwords.

Meanwhile, VerticalOne is specializing in the consolidation of the various financial accounts you may have on Web by enabling a single point of access to personal account information without the hassle of logging on to multiple sites and entering numerous passwords. VerticalOne recently partnered with The Motley Fool to let Fool customers access brokerage accounts, reward programs, credit card and bank statements, and other bills in one location. The service should be available at the end of October at www.fool.com.

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