Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

Software Agents for Electronic Marketplaces: Current and Future Research Directions

Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

Software Agents for Electronic Marketplaces: Current and Future Research Directions

Article excerpt


The premise of software agents to define the structural and operational models of the virtual marketplace of the future can account for the increased interest regarding their application in areas where they can add substantial value in terms of automation and functionality. At the heart of such a marketplace rests an ontology modeling the domain upon which a nucleus of agent-based services can be constructed. Negotiation services hold the dominant position in terms of the attention they have received in research. Complementary to them, but no less important, are the advising services representing support functionality that is required throughout the cycle of a deal; from the expressed intention of the two parties to eventual maturity and closure. In this paper we focus on research trends and on their possible future development for ontologies and the above service categories emphasizing on the role of software agents in this context. A review and analysis of past and present works helps to formulate sets of questions that future research will seek to address.


Software agents form an essential part of an increasing number of computer-based information systems. This happens because agents are considered to be the next generation model for engineering complex distributed systems and necessary to design and built software entities. According to Jennings (2001) agents are clearly identifiable solving entities with well-defined boundaries and interfaces. They are embedded in a particular environment, receiving inputs related to the current state of their environment through sensors and acting on the environment through effectors. They are designed to fulfill a specific purpose as they have particular "goals" to achieve. They are autonomous since they have control over both their internal state and their own behavior and are capable of exhibiting flexible problem solving behavior in pursuit of their design objectives. In Electronic Commerce (EC), the use of agents means that they need to interact with one another, either to achieve their individual objectives or to manage the dependencies that follow from being situated in a common environment (2001).

The experience of a traditional marketplace was enhanced by the fact that it constituted more than just a place of economic transaction, which was often secondary to the opportunities for social contact. Electronic marketplaces are no different in a sense that represent one such environment where buyers and sellers can come together, exchange information, negotiate and transact as in traditional marketplaces (Kurbel and Loutchko 2002). As such, electronic marketplace design is becoming a very important research topic. For example, stemming from research on 3D Virtual Reality and online store technologies, it would not be long that customers would find online malls of the future more like their offline counterparts. Shoppers would 'walk around' the virtual mall using their avatars and controlling their moves by pointing their mouse or using simple voice commands (Shen, Radakrishnan and Georganas 2002). To find items of their interest or to compare prices they can find help from the matching services of a broker agent. They can also be advised for a certain product or purchase they are about to make, or already did, from advising agents. If they find items of interest during the navigation process, they can initiate a negotiation session so that they can buy them.

This paper presents the state of research for the agent-part of an electronic marketplace. It starts with a discussion of the benefits and impacts of agents in E-Commerce. It then defines the research landscape focusing on the functionality of an electronic marketplace that can be enabled by the agent process; its ontologies, its advising services and it's most fundamental and powerful mechanism for managing inter-agent dependencies at run time; negotiation. Based on this a research agenda for the future is outlined. …

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