Many of the banks and technology companies that have been most active in electronic commerce announced the formation Wednesday of a "super consortium" to promote payments over the Internet.
The multi-industry group, calling itself the Joint Electronic Payments Initiative, said its goals are to create an open standard for Internet transactions and conduct a test in September.
The members, who expect to boost Internet payments by adopting the standard, are a veritable Who's Who of corporations providing or experimenting with new payment mechanisms, as well as high-tech leaders like IBM, Microsoft, and Netscape.
Cybercash, Open Market, IBM, and Microsoft are in a group of seven "core participants," which have committed staff time and money, and plan to be involved in the September trial.
The Financial Services Technology Consortium, a banking industry research group, is also a core member, along with the Open Software Foundation and GC Tech, a French technology company.
The Joint Electronic Payments Initiative - its acronym, JEPI, is pronounced "jeppy" - listed 20 other organizations that have pledged support, among them Citibank, also the chief organizer of the Financial Services Technology Consortium.
Verifone Inc., the point of sale systems company that owns part of Cybercash and is diversifying into Internet commerce, also will play an active role in bringing order to the emerging market.
"Everyone agrees there's a need for some coordination here," said Thomas K. Wills, co-chairman of JEPI. "We all have our niches, but we all need to synchronize what we're doing."
Mr. Wills also is senior program manager for Commercenet, the California-based Internet payments project with some 140 corporate members. Commercenet organized JEPI in tandem with the 130-member World Wide Web Consortium, a standards-promoting group associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Because Commercenet and the Web consortium, known as W3C, each represent many members, as do some of the JEPI participants, JEPI could be defined as a "consortium of consortia."
"This is an international project that we believe could significantly accelerate the adoption and use of payment options over the World Wide Web," Mr. Wills said.
JEPI is not alone in such a pursuit. Commercenet and two other partners will hold the first meeting Friday of the Electronic Payments Forum. Quickening an announcement scheduled next week, the Norcross, Ga., consulting firm Global Concepts Inc. said Wednesday that eight companies are joining its Internet Forum to address business and marketing issues.
The National Automated Clearing House Association, one of JEPI's supporters, is also forming its own forum.
JEPI's chief challenge is to make sure on-line merchants are capable of accepting the types of payments consumers want to use, said James S. Miller, a research scientist at the World Wide Web Consortium and JEPI's other co-chairman.
Dominick Cavuoto, a director at KPMG Peat Marwick, said standards- setting won't be easy but he praised the attempt.
Scott Smith, an analyst at Jupiter Communications, predicted JEPI will make great strides "as long as the political dust stays down."
Among others in JEPI are Bellcore, British Telecom, CUC International, First Virtual Holdings, and Carnegie Mellon University's NetBill program, Oracle, NTT of Japan, and Nokia.