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3.2Agency: Taking Catalysing the Information Chain to the Next Stage
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To make it possible to use the Internet and the future electronic market place on a higher conceptual level and in a task-oriented way, we will need some sort of 'cement' to build it, i.e. some kind of oil is needed to make this process run smoothly. The term of "agency" as coined in the previous section, is meant to denote exactly this. "Agency" can be described as means (techniques, concepts, applications, etc.) to personalise, customise, elaborate, delegate, and catalyse the processes in the online market place. The key characteristic of agency is that it does not influence the information, content or services that it helps to offer or enable. Agency makes the processes in the information chain work better, more smoothly, more user-friendly, and so on, but it does not alter or influence the actual data (e.g. information) that it is enhancing, customising, elaborating, etcetera.

It may be expected that three kinds of "agency" will emerge on the future online market place (see diagram 2):
1. Supplier-driven agency, which is closely related to Information Push. Current and future examples of this kind of agency are Push Media, Software Agents and Web-enabled television;
2. User-driven agency, which is closely related to Information Pull. Current and future examples of this kind of agency are (mobile) Software Agents and personal news papers; and
3. An agency which makes the two previous agencies converge, and which is related to both Information Push as well as Information Pull. This agency is all about the intermediary services as described before in section 2.3. Current and future examples of this kind of agency are (human or computer) information brokers and intermediaries.

Agency will enable people to focus primarily on what it is they want to do (e.g. which information they need, which task they would like to get done), and much less on how they should best do this (e.g. where to look for information or where to offer it) and which applications, services and techniques should be best used to accomplish this. This focus shift is not only necessary because it saves us time and because it makes life a lot easier, but also because it may be expected that many of the newcomers on the future online market place are non-technical by nature and (totally or to a high degree) computer-illiterate. If this market place is to be open and ready for everyone, it should not have high technological barriers to entry. Agency will contribute to making the focus shift from people complying to the technique to a situation where the technique is complying to the people.

In the following diagram an overview is given of the structure of the information market as it could emerge in the near-future. Next to each of the agencies, related concepts, techniques and applications are given (again: these serve as examples, and are by no means an exhaustive list);

Diagram 2 - the future set-up of the online information chain
Diagram 2 - expected future setup of the online information chain

What this diagram should make clear is that none of the mentioned techniques and concepts are 'do-all, end-all' solutions that will give us the perfect online market place. Instead, the future will be about numerous possibilities for each individual to choose from. Every individual's choice will be determined by such factors as technical knowledge, familiarity with (working with) computers and computer applications, whether one wants to get the information needed actively or passively, whether there are time and cost constraints, etcetera.

Another important addition to this diagram, when compared with the one in section 3.1.2, is that of a third party (or 'stream') to the information chain which is related to both Information Push and Pull. In the next section this stream will be given a closer examination.
Later in this paper (in chapter four and five) we will zoom in on two of the concepts and techniques as mentioned in the diagram. These two concepts are (Intelligent) Software Agents and Ubiquitous Computing / Calm Technology / Augmented Reality. The other mentioned techniques and concepts (such as "Superdistribution") will be dealt with in the remainder of this chapter.

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by Björn Hermans