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Keyboard nation

The business of home life keeps getting easier to run.

This month, global engineering giant Bechtel inked a

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$1 billion contract with California-based online grocer Webvan to build distribution centers in 26 new markets across the United States over the next two years.

Type an order, Webvan fills your fridge. Who'll miss that chilly stroll through frozen foods?

Anyway, those who view shopping as a sensory experience will always have auctions. The musty smells. The crowds. The smack of the gavel. Or maybe not.

Last week, Lycos, an Internet portal and online community with millions of users, launched an online auction service designed to give consumers wide access to small-fry sellers and big retailers.

A quarter of all shopping could be done over the Web by 2010, says Interactive Age.

Critics decry the rise of a "recluse culture." But maybe it's just community, redefined: forums for fast business spawning networks that can eventually lead to real-time relationships.

One byproduct: a shift in the way new ideas gain currency as these communities build trust.

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"I'd rather hear something from a friend than from an 'expert' I've never met," a late-20s biz whiz named Bo Peabody told me in a recent e-mail exchange.

Bo founded a company called Tripod in 1992 while he was still an undergrad. His idea: Create an online network of up-and-comers who could help each other grow. Last year he sold Tripod - to Lycos - for $58 million in stock.

That's not the kind of power play we all can make. But we can do well to expand our communities, both virtual and real. Introductions can ease the way. To get a handle on the world of online auctions, look right.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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