Subject: Push Technology: What is it and how it is used on the Net now. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ PUSH! : Are Your Web Browsing Days Over? Patrick Crispen, InterNIC Information and Education Services Even before the recent announcement that Intermind (http://www.intermind.com/nam/uvla//3340/ources/plrc.html.html) may soon receive the patent rights to the "channel communications" portion of push technology, push technology has been one of the hottest topics on the Internet. But what exactly is "push technology" and can it make Web browsing as we know it obsolete? Imagine that the Internet is a giant collection of magazines. There are two ways that you can find and receive only those magazines that contain information on the topics that interest you. You can go to the magazine stand in person and physically search through pile after pile of magazines that don't interest you just to find the few that do, or you can bypass the magazine stand altogether, subscribe to a couple of magazines, and have those magazines delivered directly to your mailbox. Push technology is very much like a free version of magazine home delivery. Simply put, push technology automatically delivers information through channels which are delivered directly to your desktop throughout the day. Think of channels as magazines; they can contain news, sports scores, stock information, and even links to other places on the Internet where you can find more information on a particular topic. According to Drummond Reed, the co-founder of Intermind, "with client-pull technologies like the Web, you have to actively go out and get the information that you are looking for. With push technology, the information that you want is automatically delivered to you. Push is much more proactive." How does push technology work? Most push technology content providers require you to give them a few pieces of personal information, for example, where you live, the names of your favorite sports teams, what stocks you follow, and other areas of interest. The push content provider then enters this information into a "server-side" database (a "server side" database is a database that is kept on one of the push content provider's computers, or "servers"). The push content provider then uses this database to determine what information you might be interested in and when they should send that information to you. Most businesses already use push technology and don't know it. Through e-mail, probably the most widely used push technology around, businesses keep in contact with their customers, telling them about sales, important events, upgrades, and anything else that might be relevant. Businesses can create customer e-mail lists using nothing more than a simple e-mail program like Eudora or P-Mail, or they can use large, commercial mailing list manager programs like L-Soft's LISTSERV (http://www.lsoft.com/com/nam/uvla//3340/ources/plrc.html.html). One of the innovators in the new generation of push technology is PointCast (http://www.pointcast.com/nam/uvla//3340/ources/plrc.html.html). Launched in February of 1996, the PointCast Network is a free, advertiser-supported information browser and screen-saver that provides up-to-the-minute national and international news, stock information, industry updates, weather, and sports scores. Once you download PointCast's free software, PointCast's running ticker will provide you with the latest stock quotes and sports scores, and its news content can be updated several times a day. Best of all, PointCast allows you to completely customize their service to show only the information that interests you. You can even choose how often PointCast updates its news content, and you are given the opportunity to receive news from a variety of major sources, including CNN (and the other news organizations in the Time/Warner family), Reuters, The New York Times, Wired, and ZDNet. After Dark (http://www.afterdark.com/nam/uvla//3340/ources/plrc.html.html), creator of the popular "flying toasters" screen saver, also offers a free push technology software package called "After Dark Online." Much like the PointCast Network, After Dark Online is a collection of customizable screen savers that display the latest news and information from news organizations including Sports Illustrated Online, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and E! Online. BackWeb (http://www.backweb.com/m/nam/uvla//3340/ources/plrc.html.html) also pushes the latest news and information to your desktop, but unlike PointCast and After Dark Online, BackWeb's free software can also push multimedia audio/video files and software updates directly to your hard drive. Several major software manufacturers, including the Internet Explorer division of Microsoft and anti-virus software manufacturer McAffee, now offer BackWeb channels which automatically tell you when a new version of their software is available and automatically downloads that update to your computer. Like PointCast and After Dark Online, BackWeb can display its news and information as a screen saver. One of BackWeb's unique features, however, is that instead of having a scrolling news ticker, BackWeb uses "InfoFlashes," small, animated graphics that display the latest news in an unused area of your desktop or at the bottom of your screen. BackWeb is also ideal for intranets (internal, corporate networks) because, thanks to BackWeb's administration and connectivity features, it allows anyone on your internal network who has a browser to push content to rest of your company. Marimba's Castanet (http://www.marimba.com/m/nam/uvla//3340/ources/plrc.html.html) is an example of how Java can be used in push technology to automatically distribute, manage, and update network applications and information across different platforms and networks. Recently Castanet was expanded with the addition of Castanet Update Now. It manages both Java and non-Java languages. Each of Castanet's channels are individual applications developed in the most popular development languages such as C, C++ and Microsoft's Visual Basic that are pushed to your computer. These applications, which are developed by content providers around the world, can do pretty much everything from showing you the latest headlines to downloading the latest software on your company's network. Not all examples of push technology require you to download special software, though. InfoBeat (http://www.infobeat.com//nam/uvla//3340/ources/plrc.html.html) is a free, customizable news service that delivers its content to you via e-mail (either in plain ASCII format, or in HTML for people who use Netscape 3.0+, HotMail, RocketMail, or WebTV as their e-mail reader). InfoBeat has seven sections - finance, sports, entertainment, news, snow reports, weather, and reminders - and you get to choose the information that you want and when you want to receive it. One of the best and most popular examples of e-mail based push technology is 'Netscapes' "In-Box direct" (http://form.netscape.com/ibd/uvla//3340/ources/plrc.html.html). If you have a POP3 account (an e-mail account that lets you download your e-mail onto your own computer and then read that mail off-line) and if you use Netscape 3.0 or later to send and receive e-mail, you can use In-Box direct to sign up for free news services that will be pushed to your e-mail box every day. In effect, each of these news services will e-mail you a Web page, complete with graphics and working links that you can view in Netscape's mail program. Current In-Box Direct content providers include CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, People Magazine, TV Guide, Business Week, National Geographic, CNET, and The Financial Times (London). The newest frontier of push technology, however, is the Web browser front, with both Netscape Communicator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4 currently offering built-in push technology in their latest Web browsers. Both Netscape and Microsoft support "Web casting," a technology which enables you to subscribe to certain information channels which are then pushed to your computer throughout the day. Because these information channels are pushed directly to your desktop, you no longer have to surf the Internet for information that interests you. Nor do you even have to be connected to the Internet when you view these channels (the channels are pushed to you when you are connected to the Internet, and then you are free to browse these channels off-line). What does the future of push technology hold? According to Drummond Reed, "the first generation of push technology is only the tip of the iceberg." Push is currently being used as an efficient means to deliver information. Reed sees a future, however, where push technology will "fundamentally be a solution to information overload." Reed believes that the current problem lies with having to personally filter the information that we encounter on the Internet. "You currently do all of the filtering yourself," he says. However he also notes that the current version of push has only delivered more information without adding more control. According to Reed, the next generation of push technology will offer "intelligent channels with an evolving topic list" that will give the user complete control over the entire information stream. Instead of having customers visit a corporate Web site only to have to hunt for relevant information, push technology holds the promise of allowing businesses to push that relevant information directly to the customer. The end result is that the customer may be able to bypass the Web altogether. Can businesses take advantage of this technology today? Absolutely! Just contact one of the current push technology content providers - PointCast, After Dark Online, BackWeb, Marimba, InfoBeat, Netscape, or Microsoft - and ask them how their product can help you meet your company's goals. The current generation of push technology automatically delivers information - news, stock quotes, sports scores, advertising - to your desktop. With the amount of information on the Internet growing exponentially every day, and with time being the scarce commodity that it is, push technology has the potential to radically change the way that everyone uses the Internet. Will push technology supplant Web browsing, though? Only time will tell. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Permission is granted to quote, copy, or otherwise reproduce the materials in the InterNIC News, provided that the following copyright notice is retained on each and every copy: (c) Copyright 1997 Network Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved. 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