Some of the most accomplished and respected of on-line entrepreneurs have described the Internet as the ultimate destroyer of sales agents, brokers, middlemen, and anything else that could remotely be described as an intermediary. The idea gained so much currency that the word "disintermediation" - a term that once carried weight only in banking, and in the most unpleasant way - crept into the vocabulary of the digerati.

Travel and real estate agents, booksellers, and many other types of retailers seemed at risk, as keyboard-pounding consumers would use the World Wide Web to hunt for the best deals directly from the source of supply. If that logic held for bankers, the historical form of disintermediation - runoffs of deposits whenever customers could get higher yields elsewhere - would seem tame by comparison. Their recent proliferation of Web sites could hardly be expected to stem the loss of market share to other types of companies that have at least kept pace with the technology, and in some cases done better.

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