Biznet Intros Versatile Virtual Vending For Internet

Biznet Technologies, a Blacksburg, Virginia, internetworking "solutions" provider, has announced the release of Versatile Virtual Vending (VVV) for the Internetís World Wide Web.

According to Biznet, their new VVV service is an innovative software engine and platform running on their Unix workstation-based World Wide Web server that provides a dynamic, database-driven user interface utilizing todayís WWW client-server technology.

The VVV technology was initially developed to serve the needs of the business community in the "information superhighway" pilot project, Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV). The BEV is a pilot project established to create an electronic community connecting the citizens of Blacksburg, Virginia, with the resources of the Internet. The resulting cost-effective access to the "Internet" created a large test bed of users.

Local businesses saw these new Internet users as potential customers. The problem became one of providing those local business people with a cost-effective method of selling their goods on-line.

Douglas Mauer, Biznetís Director of Marketing told InfoHighway their product/service, VVV was the answer.

VVV was demonstrated at Networld+Interop í94 as part of the conference "Virginiaís Electronic Village." Representatives of the Blacksburg Electronic Village discussed the evolution of the "experiment" and Biznet Technologies spoke about its experiences with the business community and individual users in the context of the BEV and the Internet. The VVV demonstration is called "Wanes Grocery." It is a fully operational on-line grocery store, incorporating all the features of the VVV.

InfoHighway has learned a grocery chain with a half dozen stores is considering being Biznetís first VVV store. According to Mauer, VVV users who find it difficult to shop with their children can order their weekís groceries on-line, take their children to school or play at the park, and finally stop by the local grocery store, picking up their bags without having to get out of the car.

"Imagine ordering your weekend shopping list of favourite items with one or two clicks from your workstation and just picking them up at the front door of the grocery on your way home," says Mauer.

While VVV was originally developed for the retail grocery market, it has evolved into a generic server, easily adapted to any on-line ordering system, says the company.

Security is a major concern for online retailing. The VVV system allows users to visit online "stores" without pre-registration, just as customers can walk into any real retail store. In reality, the Internetís open architecture does not support restricting browser access.

Instead, the VVV system utilizes the same authentication system that millions of computers on the Internet and BBSs (bulletin board systems) also use to validate users when they log in. A database of users with their identification, password, full name, and address, is maintained.

Upon being "logged in" to the system (by typing in a valid id and password pair), a user is assigned a code (hereto referred to as a "cookie"), that is used to identify the user as being valid. This code is valid for exactly one protocol request (hereto referred to as a "get").

With each get, the user is assigned a new cookie. The chances of guessing a valid cookie at any given time are so minuscule as to be unworthy of further analysis, says Biznet.

Another feature of the VVV system is to eject inactive users after a set time of inactivity has passed. In the current version this is 3.5 minutes. An ejected user who logs back into the system within two hours is given the option to continue where he left off. After the two hours has passed, all record of his order is erased. The automatic ejection feature is in place to prevent inactive customers from consuming system resources (memory) and also as a security measure.

VVV is also designed to easily support a retail ordering system. The style of the menus that are presented for users to browse can be changed to suit the taste of the business which wishes to implement a vending system.

For a base setup, all that is required are two databases of information. One contains information on the products being vended, including fields for item numbers (UPC code in the case of a grocery retailer), category codes, prices, and descriptions. The second database lays out the hierarchy of categories. The magic of VVV is that it takes these two simple databases and produces an attractive store.

The method for submitting orders is configurable. Orders can be hard copy printed, or electronically-mailed to a particular branch, or appended to a master order text file. VVV supports routing orders to individual locations of a chain store, such as a pizza delivery business with multiple stores.

Navigation is simplified by laying out the store in a logical hierarchy. For example, a grocery store may have sections for dairy, meat, and bakery products. Under the dairy section there may be milk, cheese, and yogurt sections. With VVV these categories can be further subdivided to accommodate as large an inventory of salable items as desired.

All the hierarchy for the storeís inventory is set up in a single category database. The user is provided with simple icons that allow quick movement from point to point in the store. For those vendors that have an extremely large number of items to offer, Biznet says it can implement search engines which will allow users to quickly find exactly what they are looking for (BR). VVV also supports the use of electronic shopping lists for frequently needed items.

Users of the Lynx text-based WWW browser will see buttons such as "Submit Your Order," instead of the graphical icons.

Mauer told InfoHighway that the system can accommodate up to 60 simultaneous users. Most hypermarkets donít have 60 checkouts running simultaneously. Certainly not 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; all for around the cost of a single employee.

Back to the issue 9 contents page...

Back to the infoHIGHWAY home page...