Researchers at MIT's Sloan Center for eBusiness and Intel are trying to improve e-commerce trust with a new online system called WebTrust methodology.

''The WebTrust methodology has enabled us to generate superior trust between our Web site and our customers,'' said Bryan Rhoads, Web Strategist for Intel and the Intel team lead. He cited the example of improved user confidence in finding support solutions, ''which can be a daunting task for the novice user.''

Under the guidance of Professor Glen Urban, MIT students worked with Intel on some ''trusted advisor'' techniques and an online persona to help customers with a specific task on the Intel Web site. Urban is known for his research into ''trust cues'', or specific elements that have positive or negative effects on user trust. They were the foundation for work by the Intel and MIT teams to develop a trust generation development methodology.

''Trust has always been fundamental to relationships, whether between individuals or between a corporation and its customers,'' Urban said in a statement. ''The traditional paradigm of how trust is developed, which was through real human interaction, has been sharply altered by new technology. This increasing reliance on electronic media poses interesting challenges for both businesses and individuals about our traditional notions of trust.''

For three years, Intel has been analyzing Urban's theories and testing the new methodology on customers from around the globe who visited the Intel Web site.

Intel R&D personnel and MIT Sloan students then analyzed anonymous user click streams and user surveys between the test and control environments. After validating them against the control, the test features were reintroduced and became the control Web site. This ''Trust Generation'' process produced a more advanced and trust-based user interface and experience.

Early results look favorable. Intel reported its probability of success jumped from 63 percent to 83 percent over time within a site that sees more than 100,000 customers every day. Intel said the improvements also saved it millions of dollars a year by reducing the need to support customers through less efficient means like e-mail or phone calls.

A paper on the results of the project is forthcoming, but Urban is convinced that now is a good time for businesses to embark on a trust-based marketing strategy.

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