Zealots of electronic commerce hail it with the kind of overheated rhetoric usually reserved to describe historical events. E-business, they contend, represents nothing less than a "second Industrial Revolution," a veritable "seismic" shift in how buyers and sellers relate, a digital overthrow of the old rules as precursor to a "New Order" of boundless markets, and business at the speed of thought.

And they might well be right. Yes, the Internet economy constitutes a relatively small part of the national economy. True, virtually no dot-coms have yet turned a profit. But the swift growth of e-commerce is undeniably startling. A U.S. Department of Commerce study concluded that the e-economy generates $800 billion a year, or fully 8% of America's gross domestic product. Not Biblical proportions, perhaps, but big enough to give pause.

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