It's fashionable to speak of things happening in Internet time because processes on the Web simply occur faster than in the physical world. Instant communications and gratification are not only possible, they are expected. It's as though, as a species, business has been transformed from a lumbering elephant, which lives seven or eight decades, to a sprightly fruit fly, which experiences an entire life cycle in less than a month.

The Web, like the telephone and the microcomputer, is really a time machine. Just as FedEx is a modern version of the transporter from "Star Trek," capable of moving objects from one point on the planet to any other point in about a day, the Web compresses the relationship buildingsales cycle. A three-second sequence of mouse clicks can replace a one-or-two hour business meeting. Because of the ease and rapidity with which symbiotic relationships can be established, there's little motivation for either side to develop loyalty toward the other. Or is there?

Several factors affect the Internet business relationship: trust, is one factor. Each side assumes that the other will abide by the agreement to exchange goods, services, or money. Trust doesn't have to go very far if the business transaction involves trading a barrel of oysters for a few coins. Both sides get what they want out of the exchange or the deal is off. But consider a business transaction for services, such as a one-month contract for house cleaning. A service like powerpoint training, unlike a physical object, is difficult to quantify objectively. If a customer isn't satisfied by the quality or timing of the service, there may not be any recourse against the supplier other than simply not using that supplier again.

To quote a sales cliché, "The fear of loss is greater than the prospect for gain." Or, as Spencer Johnson says in Who Moved My Cheese? 1, "The more important your cheese is to you, the more you want to hold on to it." We buyers, sellers, and bystanders fear the unknown. This universally human trait provides the psychological basis for cultural development, patriotism, and loyalty. Since we are consumers in the service industry, this fear of the unknown also fuels our desire to stay with a service provider that has performed admirably for us in the past. Presumably, service providers appreciate the money paid to them for their services.

However, if they're in demand, they may not be as attached to the consumer as the consumer is to them. When the world is full of clients willing to pay for a service, one client is just as good as another.

Another factor in relationships is control. If one side can walk away from a relationship, and the other side can't or won't, the side that can walk away controls the relationship. On the Web, where so many product and service providers are only keystrokes away, control of the relationship is clearly in the hands of the consumer. According to Fisher and Ury in Getting to Yes, consumers have a better BATNAa Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. If the deal doesn't work outif a seller doesn't meet a price point, for examplethe customer can click to another eBusiness in a half-second. This scenario assumes that providers are numerous and largely undifferentiated.

The BATNA view of relationships suggests that the time invested in a relationship affects our decision to stay in a relationship. It's one thing to drop someone after one date and another to walk out after living together for a year. If a person has invested significant time in a relationship, then walking away and starting the process anew with someone else isn't very appealing. At least the time investment in an ongoing relationship is known. Starting anew, trying to develop another relationship, often has an unknown time commitment. Time is the most precious commodity on the planet, and no one wants to spend it unwisely.