CDMarket
…finds the best price on a music CD

CDMarket is a prototype of a NetAlive price-shopping application scheduled for release during 4Q96. NetAlive is a highly-flexible agent system that can be applied to many types of information. The first application of NetAlive was NetAlive Agency which performed Internet news gathering. This application has the same basic structure as news-gathering but with specific identification and display of price information.

Before release, this application will be generalized to obtain competitive prices on any product from any vendor. NetAlive Agency demonstrated NetAlive's ability to automatically surf to any Web site and "read" data on that Web page. CDMarket uses this feature but extends it to specifically identify prices and other numerical data. However, the NetAlive technology for reading Web pages requires some amount of manual effort for each vendor to assure that the computer's reading process is accurate. This effort has so far been directed at only six vendors (this was done at the beginning of 1996 and some of the sites have changed).

This application will get a multimedia interface before release as well.

CDMarket queries multiple online merchants for the title or artist (artist coming later) you specify. CDMarket gives you a list of offerings sorted by price with a button to take you to each merchant's site. An associated design tool lets a power-user customize CDMarket for other products.

CDMarket:

1. surfs for you. CDMarket searches multiple CD vendors automatically and in parallel.
2. puts online offerings into a uniform format. Comparing online offerings can be difficult because each vendor presents its offerings in a unique format. CDMarket extracts pertinent information from all vendors' offerings and presents them to you as a sorted list.
3. aids you in identifying offerings for further examination. CDMarket has a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that lets you efficiently review many offerings in a one-line format and then expand them in several stages to their full documents.
4. lets you save your favorite vendors for easier repeat access.
5. can alert you to changes in vendors offerings. This alerts you to price changes or additional offerings. Not currently released.
6. uses a continuously-updated list of CD vendors. CDMarket keeps working as CD vendors come and go from the Internet or change their offerings.
7. cannot be blocked by merchants. Merchants not wanting to compete on price often block server-based agents. CDMarket's client-based technology looks to the merchant just like a user surfing manually.
8. can be reconfigured in the field for other products.
9. is available for downloading (for MS Windows 3.1, 3.11, 95, NT).
10. is a NetAlive application. Cick on the graphic to go to the NetAlive home page with other applications and a design tool.

Overview

The figure below shows CDMarket's initial screen. You enter an album title and select merchants with the checkboxes. CDMarket searches and processes responses from merchants in parallel. (The figures in this document are smaller than the actual application to improve readability.)

The figure below shows CDMarket's GUI that assists you in identifying offerings for further investigation. CDMarket merges the offerings from all vendors and sorts them by price. CDMarket presents one-line offering summaries in the "current selection" listbox with the best at the top. As you scroll, CDMarket shows a multi-line "summary" along with other information. (Note: the actual application has more fields in the "current selection" than the figure shows.)

For further information, the pushbuttons "Product Info." and "Merchant Info." Instruct your Web browser to display the pertinent Internet document from the merchant's site.

The figure below shows the user configuring CDMarket's merchants. CDMarket comes with an initial selection of six merchants. The user can replace each of these six with merchants from a more extensive list. The window on the left is CDMarket's initial screen, but the checkboxes are active as drop locations for drag-and-drop. The window on the right is a palette of CDMarket merchants. The user drags CDMarket sources from the palette and drops them onto checkboxes. The user can then store the configured CDMarket application onto the hard disk for repeated use.

The figure below shows CDMarket helping the user screen offerings. If a user's query yields a large list of offerings, the user may want to narrow the list based on features in the offerings. CDMarket helps by scanning the offerings and creating a list of features. When the user "accepts" or "rejects" a particular feature, CDMarket reduces the size of the list appropriately. CDMarket can also sort the list according to price or shipping charge (shipping charge to come later).

CDMarket naturally accommodates delays inherent on the Internet (unlike may application that simply "lock up" during Internet accesses). Red borders surround portions of the screen that will change after data is received from the Internet. Green borders (shown in other figures) indicate commands whose processing is delayed by Internet access. With these exceptions, CDMarket remains fully operational during Internet delays.

CDMarket Sources

CDMarket comes with six online merchants already selected with the remainder being available through palettes. Palettes are separate Internet documents that can be provided by us or a third party. At this time, there are only six merchants and these were selected for the "developer's convenience."

The initial selection includes the following CD vendors:

Extending CDMarket

CDMarket is a NetAlive application. The CDMarket application is a 37K Web page in a format with both function and appearance (like Java). The most effective way to run CDMarket is through Netscape using the NetAlive 'viewer' to process the application's function. (CDMarket can run stand-alone, but this prevents the user from browsing while running CDMarket.) The NetAlive 'design tool' is used to create the 37K Web page.

The palette of CDMarket sources comes from an Internet document separate from the CDMarket application. With moderate programming skill and the NetAlive design tool, a third party can extend a palette or create a new one. Specifically, each entry in the palette consists of a URL (Internet address) for a source, a decoding program (in Perl -- a computer language), and the caption for the checkbox.

Custom CDMarket palettes have the effect of creating a new Internet application, but are far easier to make because the "hard" programming has already been done. The following are ideas for Internet applications that could result from custom CDMarket palettes:

Downloading CDMarket

CDMarket is a NetAlive application.

  1. If you do not have NetAlive already, you will need to download it. The license agreement permits a free trial and free non-commercial use. Press to download the NetAlive viewer for Windows 3.1 and 3.11 or the NetAlive viewer for Windows 95 and NT.
  2. If you are using an appropriate version of Netscape, pressing the CDMarket hyperlink will load and start CDMarket. Otherwise, select NetAlive's "File -- Open Location" command and open the URL http://www.netalive.com/programs/cdmarket.net.

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