In the next phase of Internet development - "web services"- computers containing different kinds of information and run by different companies will be able to communicate with each other to accomplish tasks. Analysts say the result could be monumental savings and big productivity increases.
Keith Landers, of the technology firm Extreme Logic, gives this example of how "web services" would work.
A business firm prepares a report on a new stock offering. The report is then transported to another company whose computer matches the report's topic with information about the interests of the business firm's clients.
This information is transferred to yet another company, where a computer duplicates the report, attaches the names and addresses of the interested clients and mails out thousands of copies
That distribution process involved three different companies, no workers, and took just a few minutes.
Mr. Landers says the development of a common computer language has made that type of interaction between computers possible.
"Standards are being put in place that make it possible for one system to talk to another system without having to know how the other person designed or built it," he said. "So the advantage is, if you want to share your information across companies or organizations, now there is a standard way of communicating."
Another example, this one a web services application for consumers: Your doctor puts all the test results from your examination into a database. Then you go to a heart specialist. He accesses your medical file and adds his findings.
"And then you are on a trip somewhere and you break your leg or something like that," he said. "One doctor can automatically get to both records from the other two doctors. It is all shared as web services across that architecture."
Hitesh Seth of Silverline Technologies says web services could speed up deliveries by combining the data of a computer that takes inventory at a warehouse with that of a computer that fields customer orders.
He says web services could also make shopping easier by comparing prices for an item at hundreds of stores in seconds.
"Today, you have to individually check prices because there is no automated way," he said. "A web services gateway will check out prices through multiple systems and then give you a suggested price on where you should be buying."
How close is this to happening? It is already happening in small ways, says Mr. Seth, who feels web services is more like an assembly line of computers than a dramatic new scientific breakthrough. It will increase in the years ahead, he says, as more and more businesses will find strategic ways to connect to each other.