Sun releases the first element of its e-commerce strategy, Sun Community Server

Who's trying it out?

By Stephanie Steenbergen, SunWorld staff

June  1998
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San Francisco (June 1, 1998) -- Sun Community Server, recently released messaging software from Sun's Solaris division, is being billed by Sun as the first element of Sun's three-pronged electronic commerce strategy. The software is currently in beta, and Sun claims two other types of software necessary for enabling Sun's e-commerce strategy will be soon forthcoming.

Pat Willard, senior marketing manager at Sun, explains Sun's e-commerce strategy as: Learn. Shop. Buy. According to Sun, the Sun Community Server enables the learning portion of Sun's e-commerce strategy. Its chat server and news server components let those pondering a purchase to enter a Web site and find out what others recommend. The product is intended to help Web shoppers become savvy customers. Although the product doesn't allow for online monetary transactions to take place, it appears to be one of the more sophisticated chat-enabling software packages on the market. Willard would not comment on Sun's future "shop" and "buy" product offerings.

Sun Community Server is designed for use by those who would willingly label themselves Internet ignorami yet wish to create online communities that they can maintain. Sun claims that people without any knowledge of HTML, e-mail server protocols, HTTP servers, database design, and coding can create a self-governing online community. But how?

According to Willard, SCS software is unique in the way it allows Web sites to be maintained. Permission to augment the site is granted by the site administrator to select members of an online community to limit who can contribute to the site or alter the information posted. The software's security keeps 'Net renegades from riding roughshod over discussion groups.

Willard calls this method of site management role-based access control. He says it is important because it "performs distributed facilitation." He says, "Imagine concentric rings and at the center is the system administrator. The next ring is a community facilitator, the next ring is community participants, and next ring are people who are considering becoming members."

Sun Community Server software is new technology created out of existing Sun applications. Java servlets, called Sun CoIN, bind together Sun Java WebServer technology, Sun Internet Mail Server software, and the SunScreen SKIP (simple key management for Internet Protocol) encryption key management protocol. Pricing for the software is not yet available.

A key element to Sun's e-commerce strategy?
Most Sun observers agree that Sun's e-commerce strategy has long been a vaguely gray area for the company. While Sun promotes Sun Community Server as a product for businesses looking to drive new and repeat traffic to their Web sites, Sun has yet to publicly determine when it will eventually have a complete mechanism for online commerce.

To create the SCS software, Sun collaborated with a small startup called Inclusion Inc. Sun won't specify terms of their agreement except to say that Inclusion Inc. has signed a contract to be the system integrator for the software.

Inclusion's chief technical officer, Frank Cohen, gives a bit more insight into software's hoped-for purpose: "I can't speak for Sun," says Cohen, "but at Inclusion, we feel the enterprise market is already being served by Microsoft, and the consumer market being served well by places like AOL. We hope to reach the professional market such as legal, health care, and high-tech companies."

Cohen says he thinks this software might become an alternative to e-mail. E-mail comes to our desks much the way a postcard would come via the U.S. postal service: exposed for all to read. This product's security feature allows correspondents to use the Web for very private correspondence. According to Cohen, this software will enable two lawyers to discuss a legal case or doctors to ponder a patient's prognosis online without the worry of electronic intrusion.

Stanford Alumni Association is the first to give it a try
The Stanford Alumni Association is first to implement Sun Community Server software. The Association is currently performing a pilot.

Chandrama "CJ" Yem, director, online services at Stanford Alumni Association, says that you don't have to know HTML to use the system. She says that to use the SCS software one simply puts plain text into templates.

The majority of Stanford Alumni seem to be an enormously Internet savvy group. From a focus group study, Yem has determined that 49 percent of Stanford Alumni over age of 62 are online. And approximately 90 percent of Stanford Alumni below age 62 are online.

Yem is pleased that, with the software, privileges can be granted to members of the alumni community so they can create their own interest groups if given that permission.

"We already had bulletin boards and listserves," says Yem. "That dies on the vine." Yem cites the software's automated notification feature as one of the software's most useful. Using this feature, a moderator will get a message if no one adds to his/her news group over a specified period of time. "[The moderator] can try to reinvigorate it or take it away. No more stale communities," she says.

Yem says that the Stanford Alumni Association is excited about the software because the system is going to turn readers of the Web site into contributors. According to Yem, "[Sun Community Server software] is above and beyond what's out there." She says she plans to use the Stanford Alumni Association's Web site to encourage mentoring between alumni and students. With the site, she also hopes to make alumni aware of volunteer opportunities at Stanford.


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