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Going once, going twice, going Internet . . .

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AJ Column

The Internetters were out in force at the recent Interbuild exhibition in Birmingham, not least ourselves.We included a big area where you could try out the Internet, and that kept busy. As yet though, there is mainly a sense of expectation rather than the web having seeped into the pores of the industry.

Of course exhibitions like Interbuild are firstly a chance to look and feel, and to be a talking shop.Behind that, the conversations, information and commerce will become increasingly electronic.

Last Interbuild, in 1997 the focus of Internet development was on information services, at least planning for the Internet.

Not much of that has happened. For some, high-priced subscription services have come up against the Web tradition of lowpriced or free information.And many information providers still find themselves waiting for an Internet that has the bandwidth for their data-intensive offerings.

This year, the focus was on what the Web can do better now - facilitating project information sharing and increasingly, facilitating transactions.Potentially there is more to this than just shifting what we do already to another medium. An interesting example of the Internet enabling us to work differently is 'reverse auctions' - at which people who are normally in the role of sellers bid for your custom.Reverse auctions have a brief track record in the US, notably in the airline ticket market. You post your need for last minute tickets on the reverse auction website. Airlines with spare capacity bid 'down', hoping to win the sale with the lowest bid while getting at least some income for the seats.

Contract tendering is a bit like this of course, though in secret, at a snail's pace. For construction, the Internet may energise the dynamic of a live auction with its bidding and counter-bidding as manufacturers and service suppliers seek supply contracts.

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