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It’s been argued by pundits that the Internet’s destruction of distance would also result in the demise of middlemen. They point to what has already happened as a result of direct telephone access to many types of offline businesses such as travel agencies, stockbrokers, and banks (a process economists call disintermediation). But online trading is so complex that it is creating a new breed of middlemen to ease the process of finding what you want. Professor Mohanbir Sawhney of Northwestern University calls them metamediaries and argues that they work in a virtual trading space called metamarkets that connect customers with the providers of goods and services they need to fill their needs. For example, somebody buying a house might regard purchase, mortgaging, insurance, and maintenance as related functions — a metamarket. The trouble is, these are provided by a great range of unconnected types of firm. One function of the metamediary, he argues, is to link all these together electronically in a way that makes sense to customers and permits all their needs to be met by providers. The process is called metamediation. One mark of an concept that hasn’t settled down yet is that other words for similar ideas exist, notably the more established infomediary, but also cybermediary.

At their heart, metamediaries are providers of trusted advice and information that customers need to make better decisions for a cluster of activities.

Business 2.0, May 1999

Customers have reduced transportation costs but increased search costs, giving rise to a new wave of middlemen — metamediaries — that will act as a trusted third party providing a single point of contact between customers and suppliers.

Edupage, May 1999

Page created 17 Jul. 1999

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World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 17 July 1999.