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Information cities

Open Frameworks For Information Cities

Open communication standards are making possible the virtual equivalent of real city life, enabling delivery of such essential services as 911 emergency calls, traffic and health alerts, and market and medical information [4, 6] in real or near real time. Along these lines, we have identified and endorse five design principles based on open standards for building information cities that are home to potentially millions of inhabitants, including businesses, consumers, municipal administrators, schools, hospitals, and other critical services, helping improve the quality of life for everyone in the physical city [3, 5, 7–9].

Unlike physical cities, however, information cities are not limited by physical boundaries. Today, some of them (most large Web sites) boast millions of inhabitants. Virtual New York ( is an example of a municipally owned information city, managed by the New York City mayor's office, providing direct access to municipal departments, local news, and other value-added services to the residents of the city. Another is the virtual city of Boston (, a 3D view of the real city offering information navigation and access; it is beginning to integrate emergency response, health alerts, and simulated training for fire departments and other emergency response units, along with e-commerce, shopping, and social activities. Yahoo and eBay are super cities [10], housing and entertaining millions of inhabitants 24 hours a day in the interests of commerce and collaboration worldwide. Thousands of registered suppliers inhabit these places hoping to improve their business performance in the global consumer market and tap niche markets in a semiautomated fashion [10]. See, too, the Information Cities Project (, which is supported by the European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies Division.

Here, we explore the underlying technology frameworks and open standards needed to build the foundations for these and other information cities. Using them in the same way as the bricks and mortar of physical cities, system architects can plan for and construct the equivalent of roads and buildings (see the figure here) [1, 10]. The wonderful view in [6] of how technology might be harnessed to build digital places for city inhabitants proposed five high-level design principles. Also proposed were a number of actions that businesses, city governments, and social communities could use to help build these "cities of bits."

Webster's dictionary defines a city as a "municipal corporation whose powers are confined to a fixed area and subject to the authority of the state." This plain definition emphasizes that physical boundaries are the key to physical cities, even though their influence often extends into suburbs and other more distant regions. We define an information city as a large Internet-based site offering a range of online services, including access to social environments, community services, municipal information, and e-commerce to its infohabitants. Its boundaries are potentially unlimited, scaling as far as the available computation and storage capacity allow in order to manage huge volumes of content and millions of users simultaneously.

We thus seek to address a number of underlying questions, including: Which design principles are most useful for building large-scale information cities?; Which technology models, communications standards, and trust and security mechanisms, are most useful for building their foundations?; Which open protocols are most likely be enable businesses, municipalities, and other institutions to operate through secure and trusted information cities?; and How might Internet standards provide a foundation for secure, reliable interaction among consumers and businesses?

We thus propose a novel architecture called the Open Services Architecture based on such open standards as Web services (see and Web services are being supported and adopted by many businesses as a way to securely integrate heterogeneous applications over the Internet. We are leveraging Web services to build a service-oriented model for designing and building information cities. Visions of these cities and other virtual communities have been detailed in several recent books and articles [4, 6, 9, 11, 12]. Here we emphasize the core issues around the operating system-based middleware representing the bricks and mortar needed to construct complex information systems, while providing a foundation based on commerce, collaboration, and information integration.

Which open protocols are most likely to enable businesses, municipalities, and other institutions to operate through secure and trusted information cities?

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Scenarios and Services Architecture

We envision an information city consisting of millions of consumers, small businesses, content providers, municipal departments, suppliers, buyers, traders, and regulators, along with e-schools, learning centers, hospitals, and other services needed for a full-scale urban existence [1, 6, 12]. We also envision many such information cities simultaneously promoting themselves to consumers with a range of competing services. More than one such information city will likely compete for and offer a range of services to residents of the same physical city; we thus expect them to turn to some form of specialization in order to serve the same consumer population.

Our design principles and architecture are based on the emerging Web services component models and operating environment. A number of researchers and urban planners [3, 5, 7] have proposed a blend of real-world physical architecture and software architecture to connect large computing systems, applications, and intelligent mobile devices, enabling users to access information services whenever they want to, no matter where they happen to be. Meanwhile, some companies are beginning to experiment with 3D visual representations of shopping centers, malls, and other urban shopping districts to deliver a retail shopping experience as real as possible. With costs falling for Internet access and increasing bandwidth, we can expect as much as 30%–40% of future shopping and commerce could be done through sophisticated 3D search and navigation models.

Two scenarios illustrate the value of open standards and the role of information cities in improving the quality of life for the citizens of physical cities:

Movers. John lives in a large physical city and has registered at the local information city, which is managed by the local municipal authority. He wants to find a new apartment and is looking for the right mover to get his belongings there for a price within his somewhat limited budget. Most of the city's moving companies have also registered at the same information city, advertising their services via open communications protocols and Internet standards, so their services are searchable directly through the information city's built-in navigation capabilities. Using these services, John searches for, then communicates with selected movers using the system's collaboration services, discussing such details as packing materials and sharing pictures of the furniture he wants moved. All of this is done in a trusted environment supported by built-in security and trust functions for seamless e-commerce and collaboration. When John has negotiated the details and the price, he forwards his payment through a secure channel in the information city, with payment providers guaranteeing security and trust along the way and ensuring the transaction is completed as intended. In this scenario, even small moving companies rely on the information city to attract customers, and likewise, consumers rely on the information city to provide security, trust, product search, navigation, and access to payment services.

E-learning for public schools. Imagine real-world public schools in traditional physical cities offering themselves through an information city to students at home who wish to virtually sit in on lectures given by the school's teachers in the school's own classrooms, access course information, or even pay tuition remotely. In this scenario, the public schools and their services are advertised and made accessible online to registered students. Students who wish to review or see and hear the lectures again in the evening from home or access their written content do so directly through the information city's services. Students also register themselves for special courses through the school's own information server, which is connected to the information city via a secure link. Payments to the school are also made in a secure and trusted environment through the information city's easy-to-use services and interfaces. Payments are sent directly to such schools or indirectly through third-party payment service providers also participating in the information city.

The boundaries of any information city are potentially limitless, but capacity, cost, and security issues will likely determine the number of services offered there.

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Design Principles

The five key design principles we recommend promise to help such cities emerge and thrive over the publicly available Internet (see We assume they can be managed by local municipalities (such as, trusted third-party companies, and nonprofit organizations providing secure services and direct links to such basic services as transportation, municipal rules and regulations, libraries, hospitals, public schools, and markets in the information city, as shown in the figure.

User management and registries. Capturing user profiles and preferences is a key requirement for collaborative environments in information cities. User profiles can be captured using white- and yellow-pages models, including user address and contact information supported by database registries (such as the Lightweight Directory Access Protocols) for managing potentially millions of individual user accounts and transactions over the Internet.

Although municipal information, whether on paper or online, has been and usually still is free, some city administrators and politicians have argued that both businesses and individual private citizens should pay for some forms of government-provided data. Information cities could charge subscription fees for the use of at least some information city services and restrict what can and cannot be accessed and viewed and downloaded and done there. Following the current boom in mobile computing and handheld devices, many users are likely to want to interact and communicate through these devices for their routine daily activities. Access mechanisms are thus likely to control access to services based on individual user and business permissions, subscription levels, and user profiles, as well as by the actions the user is specifically authorized to perform.

Content services. Creation, authoring, publishing, and navigation functions are crucial for delivering business, entertainment, and other services to consumers and businesses alike. Visually immersive 3D virtual environments of real cities and commercial centers are crucial for mimicking the physical world and giving consumers an appealing online experience [4, 7, 11, 12]. Moreover, publishing capabilities are required to enable small and mid-size companies to advertise and sell their services and content. For small publishers, an information city offering content services adds tremendous reach for distributing their publications and attracting a potentially large consumer base, as shown in the figure.

Commerce services. For an information city to thrive economically, electronic marketplaces or malls will allow retail stores and suppliers to register and advertise their services, and likewise buyers to search for suppliers and perform secure transactions. The Open Services Architecture requires middleware and communications standards (such as Web services [2]) to enable these suppliers to promote their product catalogs and consumers to search, navigate, and pay for products seamlessly, similar to the way they shop at physical shopping malls. Independent third-party payment providers and secure models of transactions are also needed to ensure seamless commercial transactions.

Collaboration services. Collaboration technologies enable buyers and suppliers to negotiate when buying and selling products. The same technologies can enable a group of students to communicate with their school to access a special course and interact with their teachers in almost real time. The same technologies can also be used by police and fire departments to help improve their response to emergencies. Even though standards are not yet available for Internet-wide collaboration, forums, chat rooms, and other discussion places have found ways to provide social computing environments for users [4, 11, 12]. With better security and trusted environments, similar collaboration frameworks and information sharing will improve interaction among users and businesses handling commercial transactions.

Trust and security. Middleware vendors providing software for municipalities that operate information cities supporting e-commerce, supplier registration, and collaboration need to ensure the security and trustworthiness of their systems before end users are completely willing to access their functions over the Internet. The figure outlines the layers of security, trust, and access control just above a Web services foundation needed for secure business transactions and user data privacy. For example, paying a parking ticket or obtaining a health or birth certificate over the Internet in any information city requires identity management and trusted environments to ensure the reliability of transactions. Advances in Web services security and emerging standards (such as WS-Security and WS-Trust) (see will provide a trusted and secure environment for small and mid-size businesses to access and link to information cities and reassure wary consumers their transactions are secure over the Internet.

Service computing. Web services and other open standards must also provide a framework for flexible development and deployment of new functions and options. For example, Web services enable development of the federated systems necessary for large-scale information systems to interact and integrate over the network. Consumers, municipalities, businesses, schools, media, and other organizations all must readily interoperate in this environment to deliver the services demanded by the inhabitants of physical cities [2, 11].

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The Open Services Architecture and the design principles based on Web-services, computational component models, and other service components we've discussed here will help systems engineers, software providers, and city designers and architects lay the foundations for tomorrow's information cities, where businesses, consumers, municipalities, schools, hospitals, and other basic service providers are connected to millions of users. The boundaries of any information city over the Internet are potentially limitless, but capacity, cost, and security issues will likely determine the number and type of services offered there, as well as the number of registered users who might benefit from them. Service-oriented computing paradigms will provide the open framework needed for the entities in physical cities to participate in and consume the services offered by their counterpart information cities.

Today's largest portals, including AOL, Yahoo, and eBay, are creating a giant-size, mass-appeal online ecosystem of consumers, businesses, advertisers, and content providers, enabling millions of them to interact, communicate, and transact 24 hours a day in a trusted environment. The architecture we have described here will enable flexible interaction, collaboration, integration, and participation, while incorporating advanced information navigation, trust, and access control.

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1. Dodge, M., Smith, A., and Doyle, S. Urban science. GIS Europe 6, 10 (Oct. 1997), 26–29.

2. Ferguson, D., Storey, T., Lovering, B., and Shewchuk, J. Secure, Reliable, Transaction Web Services: Architecture and Composition. White Paper, IBM and Microsoft, Oct. 2003; see

3. Fujita, M., Krugman, P., and Venables, A. The Spatial Economy: Cities, Regions, and International Trade. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999.

4. Gelertner, D. Mirror Worlds. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., 1992.

5. Graham, S. Cyberpsace and the city. J. Town Plan. (1995).

6. Horan, T. Digital Places: Building Our City of Bits. Urban Land Institute Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2000.

7. Ishida, T. Understanding digital cities. In Digital Cities: Technologies Experiences and Future Perspectives, T. Ishida and K. Isbister, Eds. Springer Verlag Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 2000.

8. Krugman. P. The Self-Organization Economy. Blackwell Publishers, Inc., Oxford, U.K., 1996.

9. Mitchell, W. City of Bits. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1996.

10. Morgan Stanley Equity Research. Digital World. Report, Morgan Stanley, New York, Feb. 2003.

11. Papazoglou, M. and Gerogakopoulos, D. Service-oriented computing (special section). Commun. ACM 46, 10 (Oct. 2003).

12. Rheingold, H. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Perseus Books, 2002; see

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Donald Ferguson ( is the chairman of the IBM Software Architecture Board.

Jakka Sairamesh ( is a project leader and senior research staff member at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Hawthorne, NY.

Stuart Feldman ( is vice president of the Internet Division of IBM Corp.

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UF1Figure. Open Services Architecture.

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