Towards Universal Web Commerce

The PaySwarm Reference Platform uses the Semantic Web. That means that it understands the information it reads in a web page and uses that knowledge to accomplish its tasks, for example, performing financial transactions. Machines understand what is in a web page by reading meta-data embedded in the page. The meta-data is expressed using a machine-readable vocabulary to describe human concepts. Vocabularies are basically dictionaries for computers – telling them more about each concept described by a particular term. In our push toward the first public release of the PaySwarm Reference Platform, we have released two of these vocabularies. One of them is for describing Commercial exchanges and one is for describing Digital Signatures. This blog post discusses what each one of them does and how they fit into the greater PaySwarm ecosystem.

The Commerce Vocabulary

The most basic concepts in any financial system revolve around describing financial accounts and transactions. Traditionally, the models for these systems have been proprietary – closely guarded secrets. However, with the advent of the Web and a greater need to describe these systems in a decentralized manner, we need to publish how we model and describe this information. This is even more important if the PaySwarm Reference Platform is going to be an open-standard, transparent in its operation, and inter-operable with other systems.

When modelling financial systems, the following questions usually come up:

  • How do you describe a financial account?
  • How do you describe a financial transfer of cash?
  • How do you describe a financial transaction between two individuals or organizations?
  • How do you describe the list of accounts that are involved in a particular transaction?
  • How do you describe the algorithm for calculating the total cash transfer of any particular transaction?

The Commerce Vocabulary provides a group of vocabulary terms that allow people to describe commercial transactions on the Semantic Web. Concepts for financial Accounts, Deposits, Payees, Transfers, Transactions, and Withdrawals are described in the vocabulary as well as how each of these interplay with one another. The vocabulary is machine-readable and is used by the PaySwarm Reference Platform to exchange information about commercial participants and events.

The Signature Vocabulary

Being able to describe commercial transactions is just one piece of the puzzle. Once that information is out there, it is very important that the information can be trusted. One approach that is often taken in the digital security industry is to use a digital signature to assert and verify that a particular person or organization published a piece of data. While there could be several blog posts dedicated to how digital signatures work and why they’re incredibly effective at preventing forgeries, we leave learning more about them as an exercise for the reader.

The Signature Vocabulary is most useful when a company or individual needs to make a statement about one or more financial transactions. It is a way of addressing the following questions:

  • How can you trust that the transaction information wasn’t forged?
  • How do you know who is making the claim about the transaction?
  • How do you secure the transaction information in a transmission channel that is not secure, such as HTTP?
  • How do you know which algorithm was used to perform the digital signature?

The signature vocabulary provides a simple but very powerful set of terms to describe digital signatures. When paired with the Commerce vocabulary, it allows verifiable claims to be made about financial transactions.

Strong Combinations

Together the Commerce vocabulary and the Signature vocabulary form the basis for PaySwarm’s financial transaction mechanism. In the coming weeks we will release a few more vocabularies for describing credit cards and debit cards, as well as a first cut of the PaySwarm vocabulary. Together, these vocabularies will allow us to perform Universal Payments on the Web.

One Response to "Towards Universal Web Commerce"

  1. Hey, I’m a big believer in micropayments and I’m glad to see you guys trying something new. :) However, I’m skeptical about all these web services technologies you’re using, though I was glad to see your post holding up JSON over the odious XML. I came to the conclusion that it’s not worth trying to bake micropayments into the web, for a variety of reasons, including that the web is just substandard tech. I’m starting work on a separate micropayments client, something that could someday replace the web, through the power of micropayments and better thin client design. I suspect that will be the winning approach, rather than trying to bake micropayments into the web.