Caveat Emptor is the right expression.

Exchanges, they’re everywhere and it’s what the Internet does best. In fact, b2b and b2c appear to be popping-up and doing very well in areas that you might not have thought of a few years ago.

Take drugs and I mean this quite literally. Maybe you’re a Columbian cocaine baron and you’re expecting a large consignment of the white stuff at the end of next week. Cocaine, like coffee is after all a commodity and you can apparently forward sell your product over the Internet to a potential buyer, as easily as you can put your sister up for sale or should I say bid, on one of the many marriage agency sites that are springing up in certain, less developed parts of the world.

It’s reported that the FBI/DEA are facing a serious challenge tackling b2b drug exchanges. Even if they know where the business is happening, security is now so good that gaining entry to a secure Server outside one’s jurisdiction without the account name and the password is about as easy as hacking into a large bank and getting away with it.

Another type of exchange that is becoming increasingly popular is the dating exchange. Eager to locate a 29-year-old Kylie Minogue-type of my own, I’m experimenting with one of these sites as I write and can see that there are 3,325 women on-line who match my criteria, complete with photos and I can start an on-line flirtation with any one of them with a simple mouse click, if I had the nerve. Unfortunately, I’m married, middle-aged and boring and there’s a serious risk of my wife beating me to death if I did, so for now, I’ll claim I’m only on-line for the research. After all, even at 45 you’re still allowed to dream and it seems that everyone on-line is either quite good-looking or stunning. In a virtual world nobody is overweight and ugly!

Having added my own Adonis-like and irresistible details to this 21st century cattle market, what does worry me, is whether the gorgeous looking Pussycat-1 is truly the brunette in the photo or really Steve, a warm and caring bricklayer from Dagenham. If I want to find out, it will cost me £5.95 for five days membership. Annual 'Gold' membership is of course much more. This is a very clever way of making money and one, very lucrative step beyond Friends Re-United, as your'e tempted to stay on-line and see who's looking at your details at any one moment. It's a little like Hotmail; a virtual presence where you can see who is showing interest in you at any one time and even start an Instant Messenger-style conversation. It's dangerously fascinating!

OK.. I’ll try. Here’s the £5.95 whistling off through the secure payment system. So Pussycat-1, "Does this work for you"? And her reply:

“I just joined a few days ago. I'm increasingly frustrated by the difficulty in meeting men in London. I consider myself to be social, sporty and outgoing but I think we've fragmented so much as a society, living on our own for longer, having better jobs so we can afford a decent standard of living. We give the impression of not needing a partner but I think secretly we're all keen for someone to share our lives with. I think this site in particular is fantastic, very interactive and a friend who met someone through the site recommended it to me. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! So, can I be nosy and ask what paper/mag etc. you're writing for”?

Sorry Pussycat-1 I’m married but single gentlemen, looking for a nice girl, you can find her at www.udate.com

Boot sales are now part of the British landscape and as the population grows beyond its current 43 million surfers (47% of the UK) and broadband starts to make its presence felt, I believe that exchanges will become a growth industry. With products like Equology now available, setting up your own b2b or b2c service is cheap and looks good. There’s no reason why any business should be spending thousands anymore on web development and hosting, when something like Equology can provide the site, the template and all the transactional bells and whistles for £40.00 a month.

If we look forward two or three years ahead, I expect small ‘vertical-market’ exchanges to become almost as popular as boot sales. Examples might be local dating or local drug-dealing but also community-based exchanges through schools and churches and even digital television. Cost remains the driving factor and as the costs of connectivity and development go down, there’s no reason why a town or even a street might not have its own local exchange for domestic items and anything else that lies within our social inventory.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll go on-line and order a half a kilo of Columbian coffee.

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