Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ One Wallet Fits All

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jun 16, 1999

Posted on NewsTrolls 16 June 1999

Wired News got it first (kudos to them), Jesse Berst posted it without links (brickbats - can we say d'oh!), and the wires simply lifted it from the press release.

It is ECML, the Electronic Commerce Modelling Language, and the industry giants weighed in Monday with the announcement of this standard for online credit card transactions.

ECML itself isn't an especially ambitious project, despite the pretensions. It consists essentially as a set of standard form field names. But the idea behind the standards to provide a common language for electronic wallets.

As standard press-release news article number 14 states,

The format, known as Electronic Commerce Modeling Language (ECML), utilizes a set of uniform field names that streamlines the process by which merchants collect electronic data for shipping, billing and payment. Initial online merchants supporting ECML include, Dell Computer Corp.,,,, Omaha Steaks,, and 1-800-Batteries.

But its simplicity allows for widespread and immediate implementation. Vendors will not have to install special software, sign license agreements, or otherwise kowtow to the standard-setters. As the ECML specifications state,

A merchant will need to make changes to incorporate the ECML field names into the checkout pages of its web site and/or the CGI/ ASP scripts that process order requests. This simply means re-naming existing form field names to the ECML field names.

The first EMCL wallet came out of the gate Tuesday with an announcement by Gator, a "privately held" internet start-up offering an automatic form-filling feature. you enter your personal information into the Gator plug-in (pictured right). When you access a site that Gator recognized, a small window pops up, and with a click of a button, the form is filled.

It all sounds so useful, and the press was unanimous in their praise, most citing the "research" which showed that "27 percent of consumers said they abandoned transactions because filling out the forms was too cumbersome." The figure is at first glance unbelievable, and the production of this timely research an little too convienient.

All that aside, it was an initiative some time in the making - Microsoft has had e-wallets in mind for several years now, and the ambitious (but not widely adopted) SET (Secure Electronic Transactions) specifications have been kicking around for more than a year.

But the ECML standard as defined is characterized by its limited nature. Although various transaction protocols are supported, it envisions and defines only credit-card transactions. The future of online commerce is going to have to include debit cards, institutional purchase orders, and many other forms of commerce.

Moreover, the standard applies to e-commerce only. Perhaps this is a necessary development, and ECML is consistent with the W3C's standards for personal information, the P3P data set. What we want, and are not getting, is a device which performs all the functions of a wallet, which as any teenager will tell you, include personal identification, the storage of important personal data, and so on and so forth.

Maybe even that's just as well, because the motivation for companies such as Gator goes well beyond facilitating online commerce. While the press is completely silent on this point, electronic wallets will also be used to collect user demographics for customer profiling. Gator is quite explicit about this (if you have the tenacity to dig into the bottom of their FAQ):

In order to provide this Service, we collect information on your web usage that remains anonymous to third parties. may derive general information from your Personal Information and web usage. will not voluntarily disclose, sell or trade your Personal Information to any third party without your consent.

Without revealing your Personal Information to third parties, will seek out high-value offers and great deals from commercial partners that match your interests. will provide this Service to you via email or through "GatorGrams" or another proprietary instrument of You may opt-out of this Service at any time by sending an email to as detailed in this Agreement or on the website.

Not to be paranoid, but - sheesh, guys, can't we have a simple e-commerce and personal information widget which doesn't report back to Bill and company?

In any case, the air will soon be thick with ECML-compliant e-wallets. As Wired News's Niall McKay reported,

In the coming months, Microsoft will adopt the ECML standard into its Passport electronic payment product, while Sun will integrate the standard into its JavaWallet payment software. Trintech has just launched an e-card product, called NetIssuer, but as part of its industrial-strength electronic payment system for banks and credit card companies.

While merchants wait with bated breath, customers cling to their personal data with a little more trepidition, the engines of online commerce rev up to grab that elusive 27 percent, and the web designers tear their hair, pulling another all-nighter to revise their sites to meet the latest standards.

All in all, just another week on the web.


AFR News Services Visa, IBM create standard for Internet billing. 15 June, 1999.

Associated Press. Standard Planned for E-Commerce. 14 June, 1999. s=v/ap/19990614/tc/e_commerce_standard_1.html (Yahoo), and 19990614/V000358-061499-idx.html (Washington Post).

Barnett, Megan. Credit-Card Firms Unveil E-Wallet Standard. The Industry Standard June 15, 1999.,1510,11387,00.html

Berst, Jesse. Ecommerce Breakthrough. Finally, an Easy Way to Pay Online. ZDNet AnchorDesk, 14 June, 1999.

Business Wire. E-Commerce Leaders Announce Universal Format for Simplified Online Payments;, Dell, and Other Leading Online Merchants Support Digital Wallet Initiative. 14 June, 1999. (Andover News), 19990614&qt=ECML&sv=IS&lk=noframes&col= NX&kt=A&ak=news1486 (Go Network)

ECML.ORG. E-Commerce Leaders Announce Universal Format for Simplified Online Payments. June 14, 1999.

ECML.ORG. Internet Field names for E-Commerce. Undated.

EMCL.ORG. Implementation Guide. Undated. EMCL.ORG. (IETF Submission) Internet Draft. June 3, 1999. D. Eastlake, T. Goldstein.

EMCL.ORG. Looking Forward. Undated.

EPayments Resource Centre. Web Site.

Gator. Corporate website.

McKay, Niall. Drag and Drop Credit Cards. Wired News, 11 June 1999.

Transactor Networks. Corporate website.

Transactor. E-Commerce Leaders Announce Universal Format for Simplified Online Payments. Press release, 14 June 1999. Trintech. Corporate Web Site.

Trintech. Announcing NetWallet 2.1 with Customization Wizard - allowing Banks to Brand Cardholder Wallets. Press Release. 4 May, 1999.

Trintech. eCommerce Leaders Announce Universal Format for Simplified Online Payments. Press release. 14 June, 1999.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

Copyright 2024
Last Updated: Jul 13, 2024 11:12 a.m.

Canadian Flag Creative Commons License.