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The Bytewriter

Pushing for You

The news (and ads) you want without the digging.

Every since the March Wired came out, declaring that pushing is the future—timed to compliment Wired's entrance into the world of push - every new media column has talked about it. And the Bytewriter will be no exception.

So, on to some old school pulling....

In case you've been surfing the tube and not the Net, you might not be familiar with the push concept. For those who have, feel free to jump ahead.

When the old and new media VPs and VIPs got together at the Internet World 1997 convention, they debated for days about what they saw push as being. Each had a glorious vision that differed from the other's. (With his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, the business manager of The Wall Street Journal, Tom Baker, said: "We're experimenting with some push technologies that print information out on paper so we can drop it every morning on your driveway.") Still, the concept isn't that complex. Think of it as email composed of Web pages and multimedia content. In fact, an early (circa 1994) form of pushing was the San Jose Mercury Time's NewsHound, which sent selected news stories via email.

Two years later, a California push pioneer named PointCast changed the rules of the game and got a lot of online attention because of it. The app carries news from a variety of sources, including: The Boston Globe, CNN Interactive, Reuters, and now Wired. Before receiving the content, you choose what type of stories you want. From then on, PointCast wakes up and logs onto your ISP as often as you ask it to.

PointCast is attracting attention because it's the first of the new push apps and it has replaced ad banners with 30-second commercials. And right now, any model that makes money on the Net is a model worth studying. Or owning: rumours spread on the Net that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. was in negotiations to buy PointCast for between $350 million and $450 million (he's not).

Even Microsoft (which is merging Windows95 and its Internet Explorer browser into its new Active Desktop platform) has a partnership with PointCast. Together they've released a new push "standard" called the Channel Definition Format. While the CDF is not an "official" standard yet, 30 new media companies have already endorsed it.

Others have moved to secure their own push services: Netscape is packaging its new browser with a collection of different push-esque programs; and Marimba—a company started by four of Java's creators — have developed Castanet, which is an app for pushing "channels" of content.

These emerging push technologies are being created by American companies, which in itself is not bad. But Canadian media must ensure their content fills at least some of the domestic push channels. The Globe and Mail is the only Canadian company so far to ensure its place in the push universe. It acquired the rights to PointCast in Canada last September.

With PointCast Canada, the "viewer" gets the same basic channels as the U.S. subscribers, as well as content from Canadian Corporate News and The Globe and Mail. And now Canada's national paper, through the encouragement of PointCast, is looking to expand its online reporting staff. With a dedicated staff, the Globe plans to update its news stories throughout the day.

The importance of having a consistently updated news source is apparent. And push services on the Net can act like an individualized news service, stamped with the name brand prestige of the old media. More importantly, with CDF, such services can be easily set up to earn revenue for the news organization. Having a push channel would strengthen a site's market share and net.prestige and would allow media companies to earn money from the channel's advertising revenue.

New media sites that use pushing to disseminate Canadian news will be able to get breaking stories to their audience in a matter of seconds. These breaking stories can direct the reader to a more detailed story on the main Web site. That last step is important, because supplanting traditional Web content with push media would just be a feeble copy of TV.

Eventually, using American technology to push Canadian news stories could become a steady stream of revenue for our domestic media.

The Bytewriter will be doing a number of columns about pushing over the next few months. Look for columns about the CDF standard, the implications of push technology on the browser, and mini-profiles on the major players.