The University of Southampton

Brokerage in an Information Economy

Agent Based Computing, E-Business Technologies

Many web sites now offer services which blur the boundaries between a number of services - news, publishing, entertainment, shopping and other services are seamlessly bundled into entrepreneurial on-line malls.

Herein lie two very important trends: the increasingly fast speeds at which these sites can re-define their services and re-organise accordingly, and secondly, but less obviously, the inevitable migration towards service deployment following a net-centric component-ware paradigm. For the proponents, purveyors and makers of the agents that populate the on-line business universe, such developments are very important- whether agents are acolytes or architects of the business of on-line business, the potential impact remains large.

Why is this so? Firstly, consider the traditional role of the on-line agent: that of serving a local clientele with global information and resources. Surely, we are all familiar with the difficulties of obtaining information using the Internet. Similar knowledge of and use of services made available by constantly and rapidly changing on-line businesses makes it very difficult for agents to use them without themselves being equally adaptive.

In order to counter this, agents that act as go-betweens for users/customers, businesses with net presence, net-specific on-line businesses, are becoming increasingly common (or at least espoused). Such agents are often referred to as `brokers', `facilitators', `mediators', `matchmakers' and a whole host of behavioural descriptors besides. To avoid confusion we use the term `Intermediary' to refer to all these middle-man agents. The features that Intermediaries provide are by no means established, and few are common. However, there are signs of a shift in perspective in intermediary operations (or at least a developing plurality): on-line information services allow local brokers to globally market local resources for a global clientele. Such a paradigm shift contributes to the growth of an `on-line services' sector. This gives a potential range of perspectives in which intermediaries can focus their operations.

A number of functions are required to serve both the administration of info-businesses, and also to guide users/ customers through info-transactions. One of the mechanisms envisaged to provide these functions in an integrated manner is the concept of the information intermediary. A number of intermediary like services are appearing on the WWW. Many of these are "shopping" agents. Features that intermediaries have been portrayed as providing are too numerous to list here. However we consider the following to be of particular importance since they are each of a general nature to be common to all domains in some form:

  • ranges of functions to aid the customer in his dealings with on-line services.
  • functions to bridge the gap between what is available and what consumers want, for example - librarians for entertainments (games, video or audio); travel agents; insurance-brokers, etc.
  • global trawls of potential services and suppliers, and assessment of the suitability of a selection of information products for the customer.
  • functions managing the info-traffic flow between suppliers and customers.
  • negotiation of payment schedules for services and commodities.
  • monitoring of domain objects for change of some attribute (e.g. price fluctuation, web-page alteration, etc).

Specific features that are pertinent to the information domain are

  • Information Search Retrieval and Processing:
  • Maintain an Infobase on behalf of the user.
  • Profiling of users according to the infobase, e.g. working practices and preferences of customers and suppliers.
  • Intelligent prediction of user requirements for information processes.
  • Commercial Negotiation

Primary investigator

Secondary investigator

  • Phil Turner


  • Marconi Communications

Associated research group

  • Intelligence, Agents, Multimedia Group
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