Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain… here comes the Infomediary.Deep thought: If the Internet were a dog, it might be named Toto.Like that little yapper in the famous film whose bark had some bite, the Internet is yanking back the curtains and exposing the powers that be for what they are — big-mouthed, fast-talking “wizards” about to be run out of town.

In this case, the curtains are opening on multitudes of business gatekeepers who have comfortably (and lucratively) wedged themselves between buyers and sellers. They know who they are — they’re called insurance brokers, stockbrokers, travel agents, third-party sellers and resellers, associates, representatives, liaisons….

In economic parlance, it’s easier just to lump them all together: middlemen. As a glance at any booming Internet business will show, Toto dislikes middlemen. At the same time, he’s encouraging and befriending a kinder, gentler, smarter — and decidedly less gluttonous — counterpart in the New Economy.

Meet the infomediaries. Managed by humans but driven mostly by electrons, they’re out to prove that the Internet is not on a middleman shooting spree, but rather is giving rise to a new generation — one that aggregates information and empowers consumers to make educated purchasing decisions that often save them money.

But wait. Why should middlemen even have a role — much less a paycheck — in the frictionless networked economy? Why the need for third-party equivocation when buyers and sellers can reach out and touch each other? Why not rub out middlemen altogether and eliminate the inefficiencies and costs they add to any sales process?

Because the service the infomediaries offer draws uniquely on the essence of the Web and its underlying computer power. Consumers shopping for a mortgage loan can go to the HomeShark site and immediately calculate payments on myriad loan plans, rather than rely on two or three vague quotes a big-talking phone agent might reel off. They can readily find related information such as homes for sale. A shopper on CompareNet can cut through the barrage of consumer-electronics features and easily weigh one manufacturer’s Dolby noise ratings against another’s.

“Every traditional travel broker, insurance broker, and mortgage broker should be worried about their career,” says Vernon Keenan, an analyst with . “The Internet can do it more efficiently. The infomediary can use the power of computers and database technology to assist the shopper in buying a complex product, in generating comparisons. They fundamentally address a different need.”