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Deep thoughts on e-commerce

IBM will next week announce that it will assign more than 50 researchers to a new research institute for electronic commerce.

International Business Machines (IBM) plans to announce on Monday that it will assign more than 50 researchers to a new research institute for electronic commerce.

Those researchers will work full or part-time on e-commerce projects at the new Institute of Advanced Commerce, with more than $10 million in IBM funding.

"Over the short term, some projects are very likely to lead to IBM products," Stuart Feldman, director of the new institute, told Reuters. "But long term, we'll be looking to provide headlights on where this world is going. This area is still in its very early adolescence."

The new institute, due to launch January 1, is part of a major push next week on what IBM calls "e-business," conducting business over the Internet.

The new e-commerce think tank will conduct more applied or product-oriented research than is traditional in basic research divisions of IBM Research Labs. At first, Feldman said, the goal will be to deliver practical developments for electronic commerce, but over time pure research will be the dominant theme.

Today the Internet only performs a slice of what people will eventually demand, he said, suggesting e-commerce must move beyond specific requests for a particular product.

Feldman, who also heads IBM's worldwide research for Internet technologies, told Reuters that the institute will bring together scholars, researchers, and executives from corporations and universities. They will work on projects to explore ways to spur acceptance of electronic checks, electronic coupons, online promotions, and auctioning.

E-business has been a central marketing theme for IBM this year as the company has released network servers, business applications, software tools, and other products aimed at that segment.

For example, senior executives at IBM's Internet division are now running an online forum on how to buy and sell holiday gifts over the Internet, advising both shoppers and merchants. Participants may submit questions in the week-long interactive discussion, which continues through Tuesday.

Next week Big Blue plans to hit the e-business theme hard at the Internet World trade show in New York, showcasing a dozen or so announcements of products, services, and customers. Announcements are planned Wednesday on offerings for ISPs, Web hosting, Internet applications, VisualAge software tools, Internet multimedia, and new services from IBM Global Services network.

An advisory board for the e-commerce institute will include Douglas Dunn, a graduate school dean at Carnegie Mellon University; Dennis Walsh, CTO of General Motors; Jay Tenenbaum, founder of the trade group CommerceNet; Michael Winch, information technology director of Safeway Plc; and Irving Wladawsky-Berger, general manager of IBM's Internet division.

The e-commerce institute, a joint effort of Big Blue's Internet division and IBM Research Lab, will be based at the lab's Hawthorne, New York, headquarters.

Reuters contributed to this report.