Progress report: ENSs
Design, Implementation and Experiments
Project 3 began in October 2002. It is comprised of two main types of activities: (1) enhancement, design and development of e-negotiation systems (ENS); and (2) usability testing and experiments with these systems. Our current activities focus on improving the existing ENS, namely WebNS, Negoisst and SimpleNS as well as on the design and implementation of new ENS, namely e-Agora, Invite and MANSS. The existing ENS are already being used in experiments and in the e-negotiation tournament (see project 5), while the new ENS are also aimed at deployment in experiments, comparative studies based on e-negotiation tournaments and in field studies. The activities in this project are co-funded by the German Research Foundation, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the German Alexander von-Humboldt Foundation.
At this stage the project focusses on: (1) ENSs enhancement and modification for the purpose of conducting international experiments, (2) the development and implementation of a SimpleNS to study the roles of analytical mechanisms in e-negotiations; and (3) the design of Invite, a comprehensive and flexible e-negotiation server and agents for teaching and research experiments that are capable of supporting various real-life e-negotiations.
ENSs enhancement and modification
The impetus for the enhancements and modification came from the international e-negotiation tournament; the main activity undertaken in Project 5 in 2003. Several ENSs were used in the tournament, including Inspire, Negoisst and WebNS. These systems needed to be modified and enhanced for the purpose of conducting research with the data obtained from the tournament. In addition the SimpleNS system was developed specifically for the tournament. To allow for the comparison of supported and unsupported e-negotiations, the SimpleNS system does not include any support mechanisms.
WebNS was developed at McMaster University. As a Web-based negotiation process support tool, it has been tested in several experiments: complex labour union and management negotiation in comparison with face-to-face meetings, online mediation using a case of resolving conflict between a consumer and a company, and multimedia negotiation using a case of remote house purchase negotiation. The software was written using java language and the experiments were conducted in a local area network in a lab environment. Although the system can run anywhere on the Internet, firewalls often block the automatic downloading of Java applets. To make it more reliable and suitable to run anywhere in an e-negotiation tournament (see Project 5 Report), WebNS has been re-programmed by using JSP on IBM WebSphere server. Six teams from Europe and Canada went through the tournament experiment successfully without any on hand training. The shortage of time and the amount of necessary changes for the tournament did not warrant enhancements with a long-term perspective and therefore the system still needs further improvements.
Negoisst is a negotiation support system combining communication management and document management. The prime purpose is to enable complex dynamic negotiations between human negotiators, to guide them through the complex negotiation process, and to provide support rather than an automation of negotiations. Negoisst was adapted for the tournament in order to make the data obtained from the tournament processes comparable to other systems. Firstly, a decision support mechanism was developed that enables the users to specify preferences both on a discrete and a continuous scale. Each (counter-)offer is then evaluated based on the specified preferences. Furthermore, it is possible to add new negotiation items that will then lead to a re-assessment of preferences.
The work on Negoisst is closely related to the research group "Electronic Negotiation Support in B2B E-Commerce" funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation) led by M. Schoop. Future research will include more user experiments to test new system features separately and continuous improvement of the Negoisst system.
Simple NS (http://mis.concordia.ca/simplens/) has been developed for teaching and conducting comparative studies on the use and effectiveness of different ENSs. It provides a virtual negotiation table allowing its users to exchange offers and messages. This system displays the negotiation case and other information required to conduct the negotiation, presents a form in which users write messages and offers, and shows the negotiation history in which all messages and offers are displayed in one table together with the time when they were made.
We have been using this system in teaching at the University of Ottawa, Vienna University and National Sun-yat Sen University. The data collected has been used to conduct comparative studies described in more detail in the Project 2 Report.
E-negotiation server and agents
Work on the design and implementation of an e-negotiation server and negotiation software agents, and experiments with their different configurations is conducted along three directions.
e-Agora is an experimental marketplace that allows buyers and sellers to engage in multi-issue negotiations. The system implements several protocols based on a negotiation phase model. e-Agora services include a software agent; a proactive assistant to the users. The agent has three main objectives: (1) identifying alternative offers that may be attractive for the user; (2) critiquing an offer that the user is considering to submit; and (3) critiquing an offer that the user receives from his/her opponent. The main purpose of eAgora is to use it in studying behavioural, commercial and social aspects of e-marketplaces and e-negotiation processes.
The initial assessment of e-Agora was based on a small scale usability testing with two groups of participants. One group conducted negotiations using the agent's services, the other negotiated without support of the agent. The preliminary results show that 92% of the participants are in favour of employing eAgora to buy and sell products over the Web. 83% of users claimed that the agent provided helpful advice and suggestions in their negotiations. The agent's presence is positively correlated with an increase of 17% in successful settlements. The participants requested additional services from the agent, including the suggestion of possible negotiation strategies, enhanced offer critique and partial negotiation automation.
Future research with a-Agora will include full-scale laboratory experiments involving control and treatment groups to assess the effectiveness of agent-based negotiation support. Another topic for future research is to enhance the agent 'scapabilities by incorporating real-time information search on demand, adaptive tracking of user profile based on the offers made, and profiling the opponent in order to infer the most likely directions for compromise and mutual benefits. Other research directions include the implementation of various negotiation and auction mechanisms and the study of their efficacy in different contexts defined by problem complexity and users' characteristics.
Invite (InterNeg virtual integrated transaction environment) is a software platform capable of facilitating, supporting and aiding e-negotiations. The purpose of the Invite system is to provide flexible and highly customizable environment for (at present) bilateral negotiations. Invite may be used in two distinct modes:
In the first mode, the anticipated purpose of the system use is teaching, training and conducting research experiments. The purpose in the second mode may also be teaching, training and conducting research experiments, but the main purpose is to provide an electronic environment to conduct field studies and real-life negotiations of various types.
Invite introduces the concept of manager-selected negotiation protocols, in that it does not implement a single, fixed negotiation protocol, but a set of prefabricated modules from which a negotiation manager is able to compose a negotiation protocol suiting his needs. Invite allows the manager to establish a sequence of mandatory and optional negotiation steps imposed on the negotiators. This concept of constructible protocols is a unique feature among existing e-negotiation systems and enhances the scope of e-negotiation beyond present applications.
Invite is currently being designed and developed as an evolutionary prototype using Macromedia’s ColdFusion technology and the Fusebox software development concept and is based on MySQL as a database management system. Invite takes a purely HTTP-based (WWW-based) approach in order to run over the Internet as well as in (classroom) Intranets.
Multi-agent negotiation support system
This project aims at improving computerized negotiation support through the use of software agents. The two primary objectives of the project include design of the web-based multi-agent negotiation support system (MANSS) and empirical investigation of the effectiveness of MANSS in supporting two-party negotiations. The key distinguishing characteristic of the proposed system is that it aims at hiding the underlying analytical models of traditional negotiation support behind the human user oriented layer of agents that proactively support negotiation process.
Presently, the overall architecture of MANSS has been identified. Each agent is defined in terms of the role it performs in the negotiation task. The agents use information sources, local data, and the models in order to perform their roles. These roles include information search and retrieval, option generation, offer critiquing, and opponent profiling. Tools and techniques form fields of artificial intelligence and soft computing will be used to design agents. Currently, the work on the prototype for MANSS has been initiated.
In order to demonstrate the utility of the proposed architecture we will perform empirical investigation at a later stage. To this end we will use the MANSS prototype in experimental settings with subjects divided into negotiating dyads. The effectiveness of MANSS will be measured in terms of negotiation outcome, achievement of objectives, user satisfaction, and other relevant criteria. We will formally postulate and test statistical hypotheses to support our expectations.
Work on the multi-agent negotiation support system will involve: detailed analysis and design of agents in MANSS and mechanisms of their action, development of MANSS prototype with information retrieval and option generation agents, development and addition of critiquing agents to the prototype, and experiments with negotiation dyads.