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Web Impact: Push technology progress lowers hurdles for users

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Web Impact: Push technology progress lowers hurdles for users

Quick advances make it easy to push your Web content

Internet time flies by quickly, and in just the past six months the emerging push marketplace has moved through the real-world equivalent of several lifetimes.

I discussed push technology in the first Web Impact column back in December's NetMarketing. At that time, the idea of pushing content to Web users was a new one, driven by the overwhelming success of the PointCast Network. New vendors like Marimba and Intermind were making noise, and Microsoft and Netscape were promising to enter the market.

Less than half a year later, all that has happened and more, and the push landscape has been completely remade. The end result: Push looks more important than ever, and the hurdles to getting your company's content pushed out to users are lower than ever.

NOT JUST FOR BIG COMPANIES

In fact, push is clearly not just for big companies anymore. Open, cheap push platforms make it possible for any online business to push marketing materials, price lists/changes and more to its business-to-business customers.

In the consumer space, push users seem to want mainly news today, but creative b-to-b marketers can broaden push's appeal. Imagine pushing pricing information or inside product news to customers. Marketers could send tips, industry news, catalog updates or special promotion information. The sky's the limit.

Overall, several trends have dominated the past few months. PointCast started the push explosion, but its model of carefully selecting which big-media companies it would include in its network has imploded. And it was PointCast itself that pushed the button.

The company opened up its network via a new channel, called PointCast Connections, that will let any Web site push its content to the PointCast viewer. The company will build a Yahoo-like directory to help users find the push content they want.

Helping PointCast change its push tune was Microsoft. The two companies are now aligned and have created a new format, CDF, or Channel Definition Format, that lets people describe the content on their Web site that they want to have pushed. CDF is supported by Microsoft, PointCast and a slew of authoring tool and push vendors.

NETSCAPE JUMPS ONBOARD

Not to be left behind, Netscape has proposed a different way of enabling push, based on its JavaScript language. Netscape's Constellation, now renamed NetCaster, will appear this summer and act as the viewer for push on the Netscape platform.

Bottom line: As we predicted earlier, the push market shake-out ended with Microsoft and Netscape on top. Not surprisingly, the two competitors are backing incompatible solutions, which means content providers either have to do push in two different ways or push for a common solution. Look for common ground to be found eventually.

Early push solutions from PointCast and BackWeb often required content providers to create entirely new content. Already burdened with keeping Web sites fresh, push might have been more than many companies could handle. But now, push vendors have settled on enabling content providers to push existing Web content down to subscribers.

Both the Microsoft and Netscape solutions offer new tags or code that Web developers add to their site that determine the content, refresh rate and other details of the push process.

It's become clear that bandwidth will be an issue with push. For example, here's an amazing statistic:

A whopping 18% of all Internet traffic is generated by PointCast users downloading big chunks of pre-ordered data. And that's from a study done last fall, well before push was the next-big-buzzword.

If the numbers are accurate, this means push will significantly slow down the Web for the rest of us.

In any case, by the end of the summer almost every major site on the Web will let users subscribe to have certain parts of their sites pushed to them. And most sites won't have any clue what to do with these new push channel connections. But they better learn quickly.M

Richard Karpinski is editor at large for NetGuide Magazine and author of "Beyond HTML" from publisher Osborne/McGraw Hill.

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