Companies that sign up to take part will be able to describe their businesses in the new Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) directory, which is scheduled to be officially introduced at a press conference in San Francisco. The directory will also provide a standardized way for companies to describe how customers can connect to their computer systems and engage in e-commerce transactions.
IBM, Microsoft and Ariba said they intend to provide both a proposed specification for an e-commerce directory service and an implementation of the technology. The UDDI directory will be based on XML, the emerging standard for exchanging data between different companies on the Internet, and on the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), an XML-based message passing protocol that's being co-authored by Microsoft, IBM and other companies.
Stannie Holt, an analyst at Boston-based The Yankee Group, said UDDI could be valuable for users on two fronts. The planned directory offers a standardized way to describe a company's products, services and business needs and also provides a widely available forum in which to advertise them, Holt said.
Holt added that the vendors backing UDDI may have sufficient clout in the industry to create what she described as a "virtuous circle," in which increasing amounts of companies looking for business partners would be attracted to the directory, thus make a listing in it more and more beneficial.
The UDDI plan "definitely addresses one of the problems of e-commerce," namely the current lack of common definitions for common things, said Mark McDonald, a partner at Chicago-based Andersen Consulting. "This is a significant deal because of the move to standardize different items, such as products that have stockkeeping unit numbers," he added.
Peter O'Kelly, an analyst at Patricia Seybold Group in Boston, said many users will eventually make use of UDDI without even realizing it. Products like e-commerce software sold by vendors such as IBM and Ariba "will have this baked in," O'Kelly said.
But Holt warned that to be successful, UDDI "must be perceived as complete, accurate and open to all." A level playing field for all competitors -- even rivals of the three founders -- is essential to the directory's chances for widespread adoption, she said.
Computerworld West Coast Bureau Chief Pimm Fox contributed to this story.