2006年10月23日

5月22日,我儿子诞生了,到今天5个月了。他现在17斤,比刚出生时的6.2斤重了近2倍,他现在61厘米,长高了10厘米,他现在会自己翻身了,他每天在我回家的时候会对我笑,他可以趴在我肩上睡3个小时,这3个小时我在玩XBOX360上的游戏,在他睡觉的时候我打完了DOA4所有角色的衣服,通关了HALO2。我的儿子每天都有新变化,他每天都能笑出声,半夜在睡梦中惊醒的时候只要拍拍他,他就又满足的脸上带着微笑的睡去了。

有人说做公司有三种做法:养猪、养女儿、养儿子,养猪就是喂大了卖钱,养女儿要养大了嫁人,养儿子是经营一个一生的事业。这种说法虽然重男轻女,现在有很多女儿要比儿子孝顺得多,但是心态不一样。

我的公司4月27日拿到我是法人代表的营业执照,5月20日通过中国移动的评审,6月10日拿到ICP证,8月14日拿到信产部发的SP证,8月20日拿到北京市科委发的高新技术企业证和高新技术产品黄卡。到现在6个月了。产品还没有上线,也还没有收入。在我心里就像儿子一样,他每天都在成长,我们的产品已经更新到了第3版,中间磕磕碰碰很多。公司的现金都要花光了,但是我的信心还没有消失,就像儿子,既然生下了他就要把他养大,哪怕最后只剩我一人。哪怕最后我还是需要去打工来挣我儿子的奶粉钱。

6个月弹指一挥间,我自己从儿子出生时的陌生,到现在看到他时感到欣慰,面对他,知道自己再苦再累也是值得的。

害怕自己放弃,立此文为据。

2006年06月16日

发些牢骚而已,虽然发牢骚解决不了任何问题而且还会伤情绪。

羡慕死了周云帆,有大白、有李扬、有老吴作为又能管理,又爱学习、自身技术水平又高的技术核心。有胡斌等爱学习、爱专研、抓细节、抓执行的产品运营核心。

妒忌死了刘韧,有洪波、王乐等认真、负责、懂IT、懂写作、懂人心的DONEWS核心,有fishman,有罗委员等技术大牛随时帮忙。还有个好老婆打理内务。

一个企业,没有过得硬的产品核心、技术核心、运营核心,老板就是强如杨总,光通还是不行了。当然光通的倒掉有很多其他因素。

最理想的大将当然就如赵云,技术好,忠心,有脑子,不多事,会沟通,交给他的任务没有不完成的,完成的没有不完美的。没有赵云,有张飞也行,至少技术好,就让他打前锋吧。没有张飞,关羽也行,只要不给他自作主张的机会就行。没有关张赵云,其实魏延黄忠都不错,可是,哪儿找这些大将去阿,刘备的命还真好,结拜了一个卖肉的一个卖枣的,都成长成为核心骨干了。我要写个武侠小说,我就得写写关张的学艺过程,反正三国开场的时候关张就已经成型了。前转有的可写。

想找一个合适的手机程序开发员,不是技术不好,就是经验不足要不就是性格太强要不就是责任心的没有。真是一将难求啊。

2006年05月29日

BLACKBERRY,用一个移动终端的push mail 创造了巨大的价值,从我上一篇引用的文章来看,国外的媒体从10年前就开始研究基于互联网的PUSH NEWS的事情,而且他们也在讨论利用当时的寻呼机作为终端实现PUSHNEWS,现在国内RSS的火爆就是一个突出的表现。

传统媒体的特点决定了他们的主要内容服务对象是那些订阅用户而不是零散用户,当然零散用户也占了很大的份额。按时把用户订阅的媒体送到用户的手中就是一个PUSH的过程。用户面对报亭中数以百计的报纸和杂志时,他们选择的随机性是很强的,但是事实上,一个用户如果经常在报亭买报,所购买的媒体也是相对固定的。就像互联网,随着一个人上网时间的增加和经验的积累,最终他也会把自己在互联网上的活动固定在某几个网站上。PUSH NEWS满足了两个需求:一个是媒体将内容主动的推送给用户的需求,另外一个是用户定制自己喜欢的内容的需求,同时,PUSH NEWS的个性化功能如更新时间,信息回馈等又给了用户不同于传统媒体的体验。

移动终端以其随时,随身,随意的特点比较PC有了很大优势,其实,基于手机的PUSH NEWS已经有了些年头,短信新闻,彩信新闻等都是,随着移动网络的优化和手机终端功能的加强,基于下载客户端的PUSH NEWS也成为了可能(从技术上讲,PUSH MAIL的实现已经解决了 PUSH NEWS的需求)。DOCOMO从2004年开始推广基于JAVA客户端的PUSH NEWS,到2005年,产生了100亿日元的广告收入,加上用户定制费用,PUSH NEWS在日本已经大获成功。

在国内,能够支持KJAVA的终端已经达到了6000万部,由于中国移动手机终端的VM标准不统一导致开发商要额外的做许多工作才能满足市场上一定份额的终端能够使用同一项基于JAVA的应用。但是这种情况随着移动自己采购手机数量的增加(2005年,中国移动集团采购的手机熟练占整个市场销售量的17%),相信会在2-3年内解决。联通已经在C网终端上解决了这个问题。

另外,开通了中国移动GPRS网络服务的用户大约有1亿,活跃用户在40%,有很多人都是开通了开通了20元/月的套餐,但是不知道如何使用,通过PUSH NEWS,PUSH MAIL等应用可以提高移动网络的使用率,作为一个在2.5G可以使用面向3G的应用,PUSH NEWS的生命力应该是很强的。

2006年05月26日

Push: The next
wave of Net news?


Push technology, the Internet’s trend du jour, allows online news sites to narrowcast personalized news directly to readers. Online publishers hope it will also push them into profitability.

The following article appeared in the May 1997 issue of The American Journalism Review.

By J.D. Lasica

For news consumers and publishers alike, 1997 may well mark a seismic shift in the way content is delivered on the Internet.

The phenomenon goes by many names: Push technology. Webcasting. Netcasting. Personal broadcast applications. Channel technology. Internet news broadcasting.

All refer to a technological revolution that is redefining the relationship between online news operations and their readers. And even if you’re not a cyberspace cowboy, push news should interest you because it has the potential to reshape the fundamentals of journalism in much the same way that television news has altered the rules of the profession.

Simply put, push changes the online news equation. We no longer have to surf for news and information. News finds us. Call it the Third Wave of Net news.

In the First Wave, newspapers launched primitive sites with cumbersome search tools, started their own members-only services, or hooked up with an online service like CompuServe, Prodigy or America Online. Few news consumers were dazzled.

The Second Wave hit when the public and mainstream media discovered the World Wide Web back in early 1995. All major news publications stampeded to the Web. And millions of Netheads, long starved for color and graphics, surfed away in a vast, communal infotopia.

But it’s been a rocky love affair. Sputtering through cyberspace on clunky 14.4-kilobits-per-second modems, wading through gigabytes of junk information, using search engines that return 147,710 hits on "Norman Mailer," dealing with dead links, boorish flamers and "interactive" news sites that don’t respond to e-mail messages — is it any wonder that we’re feeling overwhelmed and just a bit cranky? Fully half of regular users in one recent survey reported that they don’t surf anymore; they visit the same sites whenever they log on.

Which is why so many Internet users — now estimated at 51 million in the United States and Canada — are eager to embrace the Third Wave: push technology.

"Push" refers to the concept of delivering content to Internet consumers rather than expecting them to seek out a Web site — the "pull" model. (Think of good old e-mail as the ultimate push and Web surfing as the ultimate pull.)

But push news is more than simply a matter of dropping a publication’s Web site on your digital doormat. Push news empowers readers by letting them specify what content they want delivered, as well as how often. The best push media allow consumers to customize and micro-tailor their news choices. The new tools of push delivery are evolving with quicksilver rapidity, and they promise to make 1997 a watershed year.

Why now? What’s the impetus behind the Third Wave? A confluence of three factors: technology, money and a receptive public. For consumers, online news operations and software vendors, the push model offers something for everyone in the online news equation:

• Users generally like push because it delivers time savings, reliability, context and familiarity.

"The Net is just so bloody slow," says Jay Verkler, chief executive of inCommon, a push software startup in San Mateo, California. Having part of a Net publication’s content delivered behind the scenes to a user’s hard drive eliminates the bottleneck created by traffic snarls on the World Wide Wait. "Our studies show that most people return to the same places on the Web 90 percent of the time. They want those ruts in the road."

• The push companies — content distributors like PointCast and software developers like inCommon and BackWeb — add value to the equation by letting the content folks do what they do best: gather and report the news. These online middlemen either provide the technical know-how — a sophisticated software package like inCommon’s Downtown — or else they bring along a broad new audience, like PointCast and Excite.

• The main force driving push, however, is the online publishers. They like push for several reasons.

"The push idea is more compatible with the traditional media publishing model," says Steve Harmon, senior investment analyst for Mecklermedia, the leading Internet trade show and publishing firm. "Any magazine editor knows you’d rather have readers fill out a subscription card rather than go to a newsstand with 500 titles, which is what you now have with the Web’s hunting and gathering tools."

As online editors know well, it’s hard to rely on readers to come back to your site day after day. But even when visitors on the Web do stop by, it’s often an anonymous, amorphous relationship.

"The Web is like a billboard. You may know the demographics of that particular stretch of highway, but you don’t know anything about the individuals," says Patrick Naughton, senior vice president of technology for Starwave, a personalized content service. "Push strips away the anonymity. It gives us a one-to-one relationship with the customer."

"Push is going to be huge on the Web," Harmon says. Mecklermedia forecasts that as much as 50 percent of all Web use could be via push or a push-pull combination in just the next two years. The Yankee Group, a market-research firm in Boston, predicts that within three years, nearly a third of the projected $19.1 billion in annual Internet revenue will derive from push media.

In practice, however, push is still so new — the term didn’t even come into general usage until 1995 — that to describe it is like trying to sketch a moving object. But as push news develops, some early lessons are already crystallizing.

"I know of a college professor who decided to stop reading newspapers and get all his news from PointCast," says Allegra Young, marketing manager for USA Today Information Network. "But he found he was missing out on 90 percent of current events. There’s a lot of unpredictability about what news makes a difference in your world. To be a well-read citizen, you need to know more than what you woke up thinking you needed to know."

Which leads to Vin Crosbie’s three rules of push. "Push is valuable if you know what you want, if you don’t have a lot of time and if you want to receive something regularly," says Crosbie, a new media consultant in Brookline, Mass.

"Push won’t replace the morning newspaper that you read over your morning coffee, at least in the foreseeable future," he says. "But it’s a valuable personalized supplement to your news diet."

Push news comes in a dizzying array of shapes and flavors, and the flavor you choose depends on whether you’re a heavy information consumer or just an info grazer. For simplicity’s sake, then, let’s look at push not in terms of the technology but from the perspective of how it will serve us.


News alerts

Brad Templeton, publisher of ClariNet Communications, whose text-based Clari-News service has 1.7 million subscribers, recalls working at his computer in 1989 when he heard a beep and saw a news flash pop up on his screen: U.S. INVADES PANAMA. "That was six years before some people claimed they did the first push and broadcast news service on the Net," Templeton says. "The truest form of push is something that literally grabs you, makes your pager beep, pops up a window to interrupt what you’re doing. But users will tolerate very little of that, and they’ll have to have a high level of input on what they want to be alerted about."

Already the outlines of this news world are taking shape. Mercury Mail, a Denver startup that launched in June 1996, will e-mail news briefs, sports results, box scores, weather information — even birthday and anniversary reminders — to your electronic mailbox for free. Quote.com will provide investment advice, portfolio updates and stock quotes 15 minutes after they have posted to the stock exchange, also for free.

And now some online news publications are beginning to enter the fray. In February, McClatchy’s Nando.net, the online service of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, launched a free content provider that automatically gives users updated news headlines and stories throughout the day via its "NewsWatcher." It also includes a notification feature that alerts you when a news headline includes keywords that you’ve chosen in advance.

The San Jose Mercury News updates its Web edition four times a day with original content. CNN Interactive and ESPNET’s SportsZone update their news continuously during the day. But few other online news organizations use the Web to report breaking news.

The emerging technology of push-news channels, however, is likely to change all that. A reader using Marimba’s Castanet tuner or inCommon’s Downtown will be able to tell immediately — through the use of icons or other visual cues — when a news organization with a "channel" on those two "networks" has posted a new story.

All of this assumes that online publications will finally begin posting original news on their Web sites, rather than recycling yesterday’s news plus wire-service content. "There are lots of thorny issues about what news do you break in a competitive market," says David Yarnold, former editorial director of Knight-Ridder New Media, now managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News. "But I think 90 percent of what you’re working on in a particular day’s paper could be digested or mentioned first on the Web."

Rob Caplan, senior marketing manager for inCommon, says, "With ideal push technologies, as soon as the news gets reported, the user should be told about it." But as is often the case, that’s a double-edged sword.

Is faster better?

The Internet was abuzz February 28 with the word that the Dallas Morning News had used its Web site to report that Timothy McVeigh had told a defense team member that the attack on the Oklahoma City federal building was done to create a "body count" that would send a message to the government. The paper’s print edition carried the story the following day.

While the Morning News story did not directly involve push technology, the episode points to an unmistakable trend in Net journalism: Readers are beginning to get their breaking news from an online source first.

Dale Peskin, the paper’s assistant managing editor for new media, says, "Were we out to make Net history? The answer is no. Did it raise everyone’s consciousness about the power of this new storytelling tool? I think the answer is yes. This demonstrates that we’re not a print organization, we’re a newsgathering organization."

Peskin acknowledges that the desire to be first with the story played a large role in the paper’s decision to post the story on its Web site. "Once we informed the defense that we had the story, any number of things could have happened. The story could have been leaked to any number of media organizations. They could have called a press conference to try to discredit the story before it even ran. A competitor could have reported the story and gotten the facts wrong. So, yes, after all the work that went into our coverage, to have someone else break the story first would have been unthinkable."

The Dallas episode has far-reaching implications for online journalism, says Valerie Hyman, who directs programs for broadcast journalists at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"What happened in Dallas is just the tip of the iceberg," she says. "We’re beginning to see a push for people who’ve worked in a print environment to move toward a mindset that the people at the wire services and all-news radio and television have always had. In a world of Web sites and push media, our deadline is continual, our deadline is the next minute."


Notification and niche-casting

In addition to breaking news alerts, online content providers have something else in their information arsenal: personalized filtering and search tools.

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While the Morning News story did not directly involve push technology, the episode points to an unmistakable trend in Net journalism: Readers are beginning to get their breaking news from an online source first.

Dale Peskin, the paper’s assistant managing editor for new media, says, "Were we out to make Net history? The answer is no. Did it raise everyone’s consciousness about the power of this new storytelling tool? I think the answer is yes. This demonstrates that we’re not a print organization, we’re a newsgathering organization."

Peskin acknowledges that the desire to be first with the story played a large role in the paper’s decision to post the story on its Web site. "Once we informed the defense that we had the story, any number of things could have happened. The story could have been leaked to any number of media organizations. They could have called a press conference to try to discredit the story before it even ran. A competitor could have reported the story and gotten the facts wrong. So, yes, after all the work that went into our coverage, to have someone else break the story first would have been unthinkable."

The Dallas episode has far-reaching implications for online journalism, says Valerie Hyman, who directs programs for broadcast journalists at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"What happened in Dallas is just the tip of the iceberg," she says. "We’re beginning to see a push for people who’ve worked in a print environment to move toward a mindset that the people at the wire services and all-news radio and television have always had. In a world of Web sites and push media, our deadline is continual, our deadline is the next minute."


Notification and niche-casting

In addition to breaking news alerts, online content providers have something else in their information arsenal: personalized filtering and search tools.

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

Already the outlines of this news world are taking shape. Mercury Mail, a Denver startup that launched in June 1996, will e-mail news briefs, sports results, box scores, weather information — even birthday and anniversary reminders — to your electronic mailbox for free. Quote.com will provide investment advice, portfolio updates and stock quotes 15 minutes after they have posted to the stock exchange, also for free.

And now some online news publications are beginning to enter the fray. In February, McClatchy’s Nando.net, the online service of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, launched a free content provider that automatically gives users updated news headlines and stories throughout the day via its "NewsWatcher." It also includes a notification feature that alerts you when a news headline includes keywords that you’ve chosen in advance.

The San Jose Mercury News updates its Web edition four times a day with original content. CNN Interactive and ESPNET’s SportsZone update their news continuously during the day. But few other online news organizations use the Web to report breaking news.

The emerging technology of push-news channels, however, is likely to change all that. A reader using Marimba’s Castanet tuner or inCommon’s Downtown will be able to tell immediately — through the use of icons or other visual cues — when a news organization with a "channel" on those two "networks" has posted a new story.

All of this assumes that online publications will finally begin posting original news on their Web sites, rather than recycling yesterday’s news plus wire-service content. "There are lots of thorny issues about what news do you break in a competitive market," says David Yarnold, former editorial director of Knight-Ridder New Media, now managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News. "But I think 90 percent of what you’re working on in a particular day’s paper could be digested or mentioned first on the Web."

Rob Caplan, senior marketing manager for inCommon, says, "With ideal push technologies, as soon as the news gets reported, the user should be told about it." But as is often the case, that’s a double-edged sword.

Is faster better?

The Internet was abuzz February 28 with the word that the Dallas Morning News had used its Web site to report that Timothy McVeigh had told a defense team member that the attack on the Oklahoma City federal building was done to create a "body count" that would send a message to the government. The paper’s print edition carried the story the following day.

While the Morning News story did not directly involve push technology, the episode points to an unmistakable trend in Net journalism: Readers are beginning to get their breaking news from an online source first.

Dale Peskin, the paper’s assistant managing editor for new media, says, "Were we out to make Net history? The answer is no. Did it raise everyone’s consciousness about the power of this new storytelling tool? I think the answer is yes. This demonstrates that we’re not a print organization, we’re a newsgathering organization."

Peskin acknowledges that the desire to be first with the story played a large role in the paper’s decision to post the story on its Web site. "Once we informed the defense that we had the story, any number of things could have happened. The story could have been leaked to any number of media organizations. They could have called a press conference to try to discredit the story before it even ran. A competitor could have reported the story and gotten the facts wrong. So, yes, after all the work that went into our coverage, to have someone else break the story first would have been unthinkable."

The Dallas episode has far-reaching implications for online journalism, says Valerie Hyman, who directs programs for broadcast journalists at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"What happened in Dallas is just the tip of the iceberg," she says. "We’re beginning to see a push for people who’ve worked in a print environment to move toward a mindset that the people at the wire services and all-news radio and television have always had. In a world of Web sites and push media, our deadline is continual, our deadline is the next minute."


Notification and niche-casting

In addition to breaking news alerts, online content providers have something else in their information arsenal: personalized filtering and search tools.

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While the Morning News story did not directly involve push technology, the episode points to an unmistakable trend in Net journalism: Readers are beginning to get their breaking news from an online source first.

Dale Peskin, the paper’s assistant managing editor for new media, says, "Were we out to make Net history? The answer is no. Did it raise everyone’s consciousness about the power of this new storytelling tool? I think the answer is yes. This demonstrates that we’re not a print organization, we’re a newsgathering organization."

Peskin acknowledges that the desire to be first with the story played a large role in the paper’s decision to post the story on its Web site. "Once we informed the defense that we had the story, any number of things could have happened. The story could have been leaked to any number of media organizations. They could have called a press conference to try to discredit the story before it even ran. A competitor could have reported the story and gotten the facts wrong. So, yes, after all the work that went into our coverage, to have someone else break the story first would have been unthinkable."

The Dallas episode has far-reaching implications for online journalism, says Valerie Hyman, who directs programs for broadcast journalists at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"What happened in Dallas is just the tip of the iceberg," she says. "We’re beginning to see a push for people who’ve worked in a print environment to move toward a mindset that the people at the wire services and all-news radio and television have always had. In a world of Web sites and push media, our deadline is continual, our deadline is the next minute."


Notification and niche-casting

In addition to breaking news alerts, online content providers have something else in their information arsenal: personalized filtering and search tools.

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

For news consumers and publishers alike, 1997 may well mark a seismic shift in the way content is delivered on the Internet.

The phenomenon goes by many names: Push technology. Webcasting. Netcasting. Personal broadcast applications. Channel technology. Internet news broadcasting.

All refer to a technological revolution that is redefining the relationship between online news operations and their readers. And even if you’re not a cyberspace cowboy, push news should interest you because it has the potential to reshape the fundamentals of journalism in much the same way that television news has altered the rules of the profession.

Simply put, push changes the online news equation. We no longer have to surf for news and information. News finds us. Call it the Third Wave of Net news.

In the First Wave, newspapers launched primitive sites with cumbersome search tools, started their own members-only services, or hooked up with an online service like CompuServe, Prodigy or America Online. Few news consumers were dazzled.

The Second Wave hit when the public and mainstream media discovered the World Wide Web back in early 1995. All major news publications stampeded to the Web. And millions of Netheads, long starved for color and graphics, surfed away in a vast, communal infotopia.

But it’s been a rocky love affair. Sputtering through cyberspace on clunky 14.4-kilobits-per-second modems, wading through gigabytes of junk information, using search engines that return 147,710 hits on "Norman Mailer," dealing with dead links, boorish flamers and "interactive" news sites that don’t respond to e-mail messages — is it any wonder that we’re feeling overwhelmed and just a bit cranky? Fully half of regular users in one recent survey reported that they don’t surf anymore; they visit the same sites whenever they log on.

Which is why so many Internet users — now estimated at 51 million in the United States and Canada — are eager to embrace the Third Wave: push technology.

"Push" refers to the concept of delivering content to Internet consumers rather than expecting them to seek out a Web site — the "pull" model. (Think of good old e-mail as the ultimate push and Web surfing as the ultimate pull.)

But push news is more than simply a matter of dropping a publication’s Web site on your digital doormat. Push news empowers readers by letting them specify what content they want delivered, as well as how often. The best push media allow consumers to customize and micro-tailor their news choices. The new tools of push delivery are evolving with quicksilver rapidity, and they promise to make 1997 a watershed year.

Why now? What’s the impetus behind the Third Wave? A confluence of three factors: technology, money and a receptive public. For consumers, online news operations and software vendors, the push model offers something for everyone in the online news equation:

• Users generally like push because it delivers time savings, reliability, context and familiarity.

"The Net is just so bloody slow," says Jay Verkler, chief executive of inCommon, a push software startup in San Mateo, California. Having part of a Net publication’s content delivered behind the scenes to a user’s hard drive eliminates the bottleneck created by traffic snarls on the World Wide Wait. "Our studies show that most people return to the same places on the Web 90 percent of the time. They want those ruts in the road."

• The push companies — content distributors like PointCast and software developers like inCommon and BackWeb — add value to the equation by letting the content folks do what they do best: gather and report the news. These online middlemen either provide the technical know-how — a sophisticated software package like inCommon’s Downtown — or else they bring along a broad new audience, like PointCast and Excite.

• The main force driving push, however, is the online publishers. They like push for several reasons.

"The push idea is more compatible with the traditional media publishing model," says Steve Harmon, senior investment analyst for Mecklermedia, the leading Internet trade show and publishing firm. "Any magazine editor knows you’d rather have readers fill out a subscription card rather than go to a newsstand with 500 titles, which is what you now have with the Web’s hunting and gathering tools."

As online editors know well, it’s hard to rely on readers to come back to your site day after day. But even when visitors on the Web do stop by, it’s often an anonymous, amorphous relationship.

"The Web is like a billboard. You may know the demographics of that particular stretch of highway, but you don’t know anything about the individuals," says Patrick Naughton, senior vice president of technology for Starwave, a personalized content service. "Push strips away the anonymity. It gives us a one-to-one relationship with the customer."

"Push is going to be huge on the Web," Harmon says. Mecklermedia forecasts that as much as 50 percent of all Web use could be via push or a push-pull combination in just the next two years. The Yankee Group, a market-research firm in Boston, predicts that within three years, nearly a third of the projected $19.1 billion in annual Internet revenue will derive from push media.

In practice, however, push is still so new — the term didn’t even come into general usage until 1995 — that to describe it is like trying to sketch a moving object. But as push news develops, some early lessons are already crystallizing.

"I know of a college professor who decided to stop reading newspapers and get all his news from PointCast," says Allegra Young, marketing manager for USA Today Information Network. "But he found he was missing out on 90 percent of current events. There’s a lot of unpredictability about what news makes a difference in your world. To be a well-read citizen, you need to know more than what you woke up thinking you needed to know."

Which leads to Vin Crosbie’s three rules of push. "Push is valuable if you know what you want, if you don’t have a lot of time and if you want to receive something regularly," says Crosbie, a new media consultant in Brookline, Mass.

"Push won’t replace the morning newspaper that you read over your morning coffee, at least in the foreseeable future," he says. "But it’s a valuable personalized supplement to your news diet."

Push news comes in a dizzying array of shapes and flavors, and the flavor you choose depends on whether you’re a heavy information consumer or just an info grazer. For simplicity’s sake, then, let’s look at push not in terms of the technology but from the perspective of how it will serve us.


News alerts

Brad Templeton, publisher of ClariNet Communications, whose text-based Clari-News service has 1.7 million subscribers, recalls working at his computer in 1989 when he heard a beep and saw a news flash pop up on his screen: U.S. INVADES PANAMA. "That was six years before some people claimed they did the first push and broadcast news service on the Net," Templeton says. "The truest form of push is something that literally grabs you, makes your pager beep, pops up a window to interrupt what you’re doing. But users will tolerate very little of that, and they’ll have to have a high level of input on what they want to be alerted about."

Already the outlines of this news world are taking shape. Mercury Mail, a Denver startup that launched in June 1996, will e-mail news briefs, sports results, box scores, weather information — even birthday and anniversary reminders — to your electronic mailbox for free. Quote.com will provide investment advice, portfolio updates and stock quotes 15 minutes after they have posted to the stock exchange, also for free.

And now some online news publications are beginning to enter the fray. In February, McClatchy’s Nando.net, the online service of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, launched a free content provider that automatically gives users updated news headlines and stories throughout the day via its "NewsWatcher." It also includes a notification feature that alerts you when a news headline includes keywords that you’ve chosen in advance.

The San Jose Mercury News updates its Web edition four times a day with original content. CNN Interactive and ESPNET’s SportsZone update their news continuously during the day. But few other online news organizations use the Web to report breaking news.

The emerging technology of push-news channels, however, is likely to change all that. A reader using Marimba’s Castanet tuner or inCommon’s Downtown will be able to tell immediately — through the use of icons or other visual cues — when a news organization with a "channel" on those two "networks" has posted a new story.

All of this assumes that online publications will finally begin posting original news on their Web sites, rather than recycling yesterday’s news plus wire-service content. "There are lots of thorny issues about what news do you break in a competitive market," says David Yarnold, former editorial director of Knight-Ridder New Media, now managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News. "But I think 90 percent of what you’re working on in a particular day’s paper could be digested or mentioned first on the Web."

Rob Caplan, senior marketing manager for inCommon, says, "With ideal push technologies, as soon as the news gets reported, the user should be told about it." But as is often the case, that’s a double-edged sword.

Is faster better?

The Internet was abuzz February 28 with the word that the Dallas Morning News had used its Web site to report that Timothy McVeigh had told a defense team member that the attack on the Oklahoma City federal building was done to create a "body count" that would send a message to the government. The paper’s print edition carried the story the following day.

While the Morning News story did not directly involve push technology, the episode points to an unmistakable trend in Net journalism: Readers are beginning to get their breaking news from an online source first.

Dale Peskin, the paper’s assistant managing editor for new media, says, "Were we out to make Net history? The answer is no. Did it raise everyone’s consciousness about the power of this new storytelling tool? I think the answer is yes. This demonstrates that we’re not a print organization, we’re a newsgathering organization."

Peskin acknowledges that the desire to be first with the story played a large role in the paper’s decision to post the story on its Web site. "Once we informed the defense that we had the story, any number of things could have happened. The story could have been leaked to any number of media organizations. They could have called a press conference to try to discredit the story before it even ran. A competitor could have reported the story and gotten the facts wrong. So, yes, after all the work that went into our coverage, to have someone else break the story first would have been unthinkable."

The Dallas episode has far-reaching implications for online journalism, says Valerie Hyman, who directs programs for broadcast journalists at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"What happened in Dallas is just the tip of the iceberg," she says. "We’re beginning to see a push for people who’ve worked in a print environment to move toward a mindset that the people at the wire services and all-news radio and television have always had. In a world of Web sites and push media, our deadline is continual, our deadline is the next minute."


Notification and niche-casting

In addition to breaking news alerts, online content providers have something else in their information arsenal: personalized filtering and search tools.

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While the Morning News story did not directly involve push technology, the episode points to an unmistakable trend in Net journalism: Readers are beginning to get their breaking news from an online source first.

Dale Peskin, the paper’s assistant managing editor for new media, says, "Were we out to make Net history? The answer is no. Did it raise everyone’s consciousness about the power of this new storytelling tool? I think the answer is yes. This demonstrates that we’re not a print organization, we’re a newsgathering organization."

Peskin acknowledges that the desire to be first with the story played a large role in the paper’s decision to post the story on its Web site. "Once we informed the defense that we had the story, any number of things could have happened. The story could have been leaked to any number of media organizations. They could have called a press conference to try to discredit the story before it even ran. A competitor could have reported the story and gotten the facts wrong. So, yes, after all the work that went into our coverage, to have someone else break the story first would have been unthinkable."

The Dallas episode has far-reaching implications for online journalism, says Valerie Hyman, who directs programs for broadcast journalists at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"What happened in Dallas is just the tip of the iceberg," she says. "We’re beginning to see a push for people who’ve worked in a print environment to move toward a mindset that the people at the wire services and all-news radio and television have always had. In a world of Web sites and push media, our deadline is continual, our deadline is the next minute."


Notification and niche-casting

In addition to breaking news alerts, online content providers have something else in their information arsenal: personalized filtering and search tools.

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

Already the outlines of this news world are taking shape. Mercury Mail, a Denver startup that launched in June 1996, will e-mail news briefs, sports results, box scores, weather information — even birthday and anniversary reminders — to your electronic mailbox for free. Quote.com will provide investment advice, portfolio updates and stock quotes 15 minutes after they have posted to the stock exchange, also for free.

And now some online news publications are beginning to enter the fray. In February, McClatchy’s Nando.net, the online service of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, launched a free content provider that automatically gives users updated news headlines and stories throughout the day via its "NewsWatcher." It also includes a notification feature that alerts you when a news headline includes keywords that you’ve chosen in advance.

The San Jose Mercury News updates its Web edition four times a day with original content. CNN Interactive and ESPNET’s SportsZone update their news continuously during the day. But few other online news organizations use the Web to report breaking news.

The emerging technology of push-news channels, however, is likely to change all that. A reader using Marimba’s Castanet tuner or inCommon’s Downtown will be able to tell immediately — through the use of icons or other visual cues — when a news organization with a "channel" on those two "networks" has posted a new story.

All of this assumes that online publications will finally begin posting original news on their Web sites, rather than recycling yesterday’s news plus wire-service content. "There are lots of thorny issues about what news do you break in a competitive market," says David Yarnold, former editorial director of Knight-Ridder New Media, now managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News. "But I think 90 percent of what you’re working on in a particular day’s paper could be digested or mentioned first on the Web."

Rob Caplan, senior marketing manager for inCommon, says, "With ideal push technologies, as soon as the news gets reported, the user should be told about it." But as is often the case, that’s a double-edged sword.

Is faster better?

The Internet was abuzz February 28 with the word that the Dallas Morning News had used its Web site to report that Timothy McVeigh had told a defense team member that the attack on the Oklahoma City federal building was done to create a "body count" that would send a message to the government. The paper’s print edition carried the story the following day.

While the Morning News story did not directly involve push technology, the episode points to an unmistakable trend in Net journalism: Readers are beginning to get their breaking news from an online source first.

Dale Peskin, the paper’s assistant managing editor for new media, says, "Were we out to make Net history? The answer is no. Did it raise everyone’s consciousness about the power of this new storytelling tool? I think the answer is yes. This demonstrates that we’re not a print organization, we’re a newsgathering organization."

Peskin acknowledges that the desire to be first with the story played a large role in the paper’s decision to post the story on its Web site. "Once we informed the defense that we had the story, any number of things could have happened. The story could have been leaked to any number of media organizations. They could have called a press conference to try to discredit the story before it even ran. A competitor could have reported the story and gotten the facts wrong. So, yes, after all the work that went into our coverage, to have someone else break the story first would have been unthinkable."

The Dallas episode has far-reaching implications for online journalism, says Valerie Hyman, who directs programs for broadcast journalists at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"What happened in Dallas is just the tip of the iceberg," she says. "We’re beginning to see a push for people who’ve worked in a print environment to move toward a mindset that the people at the wire services and all-news radio and television have always had. In a world of Web sites and push media, our deadline is continual, our deadline is the next minute."


Notification and niche-casting

In addition to breaking news alerts, online content providers have something else in their information arsenal: personalized filtering and search tools.

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While the Morning News story did not directly involve push technology, the episode points to an unmistakable trend in Net journalism: Readers are beginning to get their breaking news from an online source first.

Dale Peskin, the paper’s assistant managing editor for new media, says, "Were we out to make Net history? The answer is no. Did it raise everyone’s consciousness about the power of this new storytelling tool? I think the answer is yes. This demonstrates that we’re not a print organization, we’re a newsgathering organization."

Peskin acknowledges that the desire to be first with the story played a large role in the paper’s decision to post the story on its Web site. "Once we informed the defense that we had the story, any number of things could have happened. The story could have been leaked to any number of media organizations. They could have called a press conference to try to discredit the story before it even ran. A competitor could have reported the story and gotten the facts wrong. So, yes, after all the work that went into our coverage, to have someone else break the story first would have been unthinkable."

The Dallas episode has far-reaching implications for online journalism, says Valerie Hyman, who directs programs for broadcast journalists at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"What happened in Dallas is just the tip of the iceberg," she says. "We’re beginning to see a push for people who’ve worked in a print environment to move toward a mindset that the people at the wire services and all-news radio and television have always had. In a world of Web sites and push media, our deadline is continual, our deadline is the next minute."


Notification and niche-casting

In addition to breaking news alerts, online content providers have something else in their information arsenal: personalized filtering and search tools.

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

"I see push as primarily appealing to people with intensively niche-focused interests," Yarnold says. "I’m thinking of two friends of mine, a heart transplant surgeon who keeps up with developments in his field, and an Ohio State alumnus who wants to know everything there is to know about Ohio State football. They’re representative of the people who use Newshound," the recently revamped news clipping service.

Many newspapers have their own version of this kind of personalized search tool. Philadelphia Clipper, a service of Philadelphia Online, allows you to write your own request or choose from a list of categories. The results are pushed to you once a day as e-mail or stored on the paper’s servers as your own personal Web page.

Several thousand readers are taking advantage of the service, most of them former residents of Philadelphia, says Chris Nelson, webmaster of Philadelphia Online.

According to Nelson, these search tools offer a way for online news publications to make inroads into markets that newspapers have not traditionally served: professionals, businesses and heavy information users. "If you custom-tailor information for individuals with a specialized area of interest or for companies with paralegals or secretaries who track home repossessions or sheriffs’ auctions, you’re not only providing a valuable service, you’re saving them time and money."

Terry Schwadron, the Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor who oversees the paper’s Web site, says he’s not personally persuaded that push is the second coming of online news. "We have a push technology now," he says. "It weighs a couple of pounds, and we deliver it to your door."

Nonetheless, he adds, "where push will be especially valuable is for highly targeted, specialized information. If you’re looking for a house in a specific neighborhood, within a certain price range, with a certain number of bathrooms and in the right school district, you’ll want to know just as soon as the house goes on the market. If you care deeply about the Dodgers, you might want an inning-by-inning score sent to your pager. If you want a particular model of a rare automobile, we’ll alert you when one becomes available."

Unfortunately, nearly all the search and filtering agents in use today are fairly crude. For several months now I’ve received a weekly e-mail alert from The Gate, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, after signing up to be alerted about job listings containing the word "editor."

The Gate’s search agent returns not only job listings, but death notices. One day I received an alert about a features editor job opening — along with a funeral notice for a Jesuit priest who "went peacefully to the Lord" after a career in which he served as associate editor of a Jesuit periodical.

Observes inCommon’s Verkler: "A reader is coming to a publisher for some human intelligence, not just software intelligence, which — trust me — isn’t there yet."


Changing colors

Until last year, push was largely confined to subscription-based customized news services (see "The Daily Me," April). Then came PointCast, the company that touched off a revolution.

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

The Silicon Valley company, which began as a conventional online information service in 1992 but rolled out a finished version of its advertiser-supported software in May 1996, dubs itself "the first broadcast network on the Internet." Basically, PointCast is a personal computer screen-saver that retrieves personalized news, sports, stock quotes and company information — along with animated ads — and serves it up in a full-screen display. In the past year about 2 million people have downloaded the free software.

PointCast’s genius in reinventing the screen-saver to deliver useful information has been matched by its success in signing up major players as content partners. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Knight-Ridder, Boston Globe, Seattle Times, CNN, CNNfn and Time Warner’s Pathfinder (Time, People and Money magazines) are among the publications that funnel content to PointCast, which massages it and broadcasts it on behalf of its media clients.

But some analysts think PointCast is poised on slippery turf. Most of its estimated 1.2 million users are office workers; home users, who generally have a dial-up connection, don’t like the five- to 20-minute wait that PointCast demands to download content to your hard drive. Moreover, few of PointCast’s content partners are committed to long term deals, and a new brood of push upstarts is nipping at its heels.

Some of these startups are technology brokers, offering the software needed to become a push publisher. BackWeb, inCommon and Intermind fall into this group. Another high-flying push startup, Marimba, has aligned with Netscape to deliver "channels" of multimedia with its next release of browser software later this year. (See "Major players in the push field.")

Many online publications, like USA Today Online, are pursuing a multi-partner strategy. On the paper’s Web site, readers have the option of downloading free software to read the paper in several ways: Netscape’s In-Box Direct, which pushes the paper’s top news headlines to your e-mail box; Individual, Inc.’s FreeLoader and Berkeley’s WebExpress, two offline browsers that download sections of the paper so you can read it at your leisure; Berkeley’s After Dark Online screen-saver; inCommon’s Downtown, a multimedia Webcasting program; and MyWay, a push tool aimed at novice users.

All of these companies are taking different approaches to "Webcasting." But what they all have in common is a grab bag of soothingly familiar broadcast metaphors. Information is packaged into "channels" that a "viewer" can "program." Software applications are called "transmitters" or "tuners." There’s even a new Webzine, ChannelSite (www.channelsite.com), devoted to covering the emerging push technologies.

The broadcast metaphor extends only so far, however. Viewers can’t "personalize" their TV shows. Wired magazine, in its March cover story on push, took a shot at reporters who equate Webcasting with television, saying, "The new networked media do borrow ideas from television, but the new media landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it."

Kevin Kelly, Wired’s executive editor, says, "We’re seeing a glimmer of this large territory opening up before us. There’s this opening space between what a TV program is and what a Web page is, and it’s in these in-between spaces that we’ll begin to see other dimensions of news in the same way that television changed not only the delivery of news in that medium, but also altered the way newspapers deliver the news…. In push-pull, the consumer is in a conversational stance with the news. You’ll hear a report, but then you can respond, ‘I’m skeptical of that, can you prove it to me?’ And the service responds back."

The upshot is that we’re now on the cusp of a one-to-one "narrowcasting" network where each of us is able to summon up a finely tuned menu of choices: your favorite Boston Globe sports columnist; the New York Times’ op-ed page; the latest golf news; and Dave Barry’s latest musings, along with your weekly church newsletter and neighborhood Little League results.

Now here’s the billion-dollar question: How many Webcasting networks will carry these channels? And who’s going to own them?

"Anyone can put up a Web page," says John Robb, senior analyst for interactive technology strategies at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But to build a personal broadcast application, you’ve got to have some serious change in your pocket."

At Starwave, Naughton says the company considered signing up with PointCast, but "we saw a lot of room for improvement and decided to develop our own technology. But we’re unusual in that respect. We have the software talent. Very few media companies are going to be crazy enough to write their own code."

However things shake out, nearly everyone predicts that the push media landscape will look vastly different a year from now. "I think a lot of these small, innovative push start-ups are going to wind up getting hosed," says Robb, who predicts that PointCast, Starwave Direct and forthcoming push releases from Microsoft and Netscape will carve up most of the terrain.

Why only a handful of push vendors instead of hundreds of competing applications or distribution networks? Think of each push vendor as equivalent to a television set. Who wants to own a hundred different television sets, even if there’s quality programming on, say, a dozen of them?

Explains consultant Crosbie: "Today, USA Today is on BackWeb, Sports Illustrated is on Berkeley’s After Dark screen-saver, the New York Times is on PointCast. The trouble for any consumer who wants to receive content from all three is that he would have to run on his PC three different push applications that conflict with each other and crash each other. That is overwhelmingly inconvenient."

Crosbie says it makes more sense to adopt a new universal delivery standard. And the leading candidate right now is HTML e-mail, which displays pushed content as colorful, graphics-rich Web pages.

That’s what Netscape and Microsoft are counting on.


Dancing on the desktop

For all of the players on the push field, there remain only three real ways of pushing news to readers: simple text e-mail, HTML e-mail and a push application like PointCast or BackWeb running on your desktop.

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

While push vendors are counting on you to be dazzled by their multimedia wares, there is a sizable number of readers who prefer simplicity and speed and aren’t impressed by jazzy Java mini-programs whirling and dancing on their desktops. And not everyone can handle multimedia; 80 percent of home computers have 8 megabytes of RAM or less, which isn’t a high enough octane to fuel most multimedia programs.

For those reasons, the Christian Science Monitor, with a global online readership, has a no-frills, text-only e-mail service.

This new landscape of networked push media provides an immediate advantage to big media companies and newspaper chains that can deliver all of their newspaper, magazine, TV and radio content on a single platter. Peskin of the Dallas Morning News says his paper’s Web site is a humble five-person operation. But he adds, "Down the road, we’re talking about ways to bring together the newsgathering resources of our TV, radio and cable stations," including 16 TV stations owned by the paper’s parent, A.H. Belo Corp.

Knight-Ridder has moved into the push realm with Inkling, which debuted in early February. Former editorial director Yarnold describes Inkling as "a national daily news magazine that aggregates the best reads from our 24 Web sites." Subscribers can choose from among 6-Pak, a selection of six sports columnists; Panorama, stories from America’s heartland; Talk Talk, a sampling of lifestyle, technology and general interest items, including columns by Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen; No Way, a collection of "the demented, weird stuff that copy desks pass around"; Probe, a selection of explanatory and investigative journalism; and Celebrate, a collection of good news and upbeat items. Inkling is now part of Netscape’s In-Box Direct program, which has more than 5 million subscribers. The New York Times, Salon, Wired News and dozens of other Web publications are among the content providers that offer their fare — usually a table of contents with hotlinks — via HTML e-mail to users of Navigator 3.0.

Netscape’s next release, dubbed Communicator and due out by mid-1997, will be part browser and part communication application. Tim Hickman, product manager for Netscape’s push technology, says it will enable users to subscribe to narrowly focused channels through PointCast, and Marimba’s Castanet program will "tune" your content by tracking the kinds of information that you regularly follow. Communicator will also "netcast" multimedia content, giving users sound clips, video, film clips and movies that will be downloaded to a user’s hard drive. "Users are just dying for it," Hickman says, "and content providers are just salivating over the idea that they no longer have to design Web pages limited to what a Web surfer with a 28.8 modem can call up."

Microsoft, too, is moving fast into push. PointCast will become an integral part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, due out this summer, delivering content — including news from MSNBC — over "channels" in the forthcoming Active Desktop.

On March 10 Microsoft and NBC announced plans for a free, advertiser-supported, live-video business news "channel" on the Web. On March 11 Microsoft proposed a new set of standards for push that would enable anyone to take a Web site and turn it into a channel. And on the same day, PointCast announced that it would open up its broadcast system to small publishers, so that anyone with a Web site — not just its media content partners — could build a channel on the PointCast network.


Pushing into multimedia

A few truths are beginning to settle over this new media landscape. Push and pull are going to exist together; it’s not an either/or choice. Online news organizations must accommodate users’ needs when deciding which approach to take. Push news may be a new delivery system, but it borrows from all of its media predecessors: the fact-checked reliability of print, the interactivity of the Web, the timeliness and instantaneity of television and radio.

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

But analyst Robb suggests that online newspapers have not yet gotten the wakeup call. "When these programs come together and users come to start expecting animation, video and audio with their news and entertainment, it’ll be crucial how well you put them together because they’ll be playing on the desktop in all their glory. The content providers are going to have to get their multimedia act together."

Kelly of Wired magazine says push media are moving us toward a world in which news follows us wherever we go. "In addition to static Web sites, there will be an entirely new species of things following you around at your general invitation. Devices that chime on your wrist when there’s a traffic jam ahead. Pagers that broadcast the scores of your favorite teams as their games are being played. If the president is assassinated, the news will pop up in the middle of your spreadsheet on your home computer."

Robb envisions a desktop that looks radically different from the one we see today. "In two to three years, instead of a Web browser, you’ll have a push-pull Internet desktop that resembles a channel-changing experience."

Naughton of StarWave sees the day coming shortly when "users will see a channel or an icon for ABC News and ESPN right next to their Quicken, Excel and Word programs."

Analyst Harmon says that mostly text-based push programs like PointCast will evolve into dynamic, robust multimedia programs by late 1997 to early 1998. "You can receive a 100-page issue of a multimedia publication, with all the richness of a CD-ROM, that could be the newspaper of tomorrow."

Within five years, he says, the line between software and content will blur; they’ll be intrinsically tied together. Beyond that, Harmon says, "the holy grail is a personal profile agent that roams the Web, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, and retrieving only the news and information you’ll want."

But too much can be made of all this flashy technology. When all is said and done, readers want substantive news and information that brings meaning to their lives.

"If you’re pushing content that is thin, users will figure that out," Yarnold says. "Nobody has the local deep content that newspaper sites do." Adds Harmon: "Microsoft is trying to reinvent themselves as a global media company. But they’re finding out how tough it is to be in the content business."

How will the push-news vista look a year or two from now? No one knows, and for now, many newspaper publishers are content to sit on the sidelines, seeing how it all shakes out.

Harmon, for one, seems bemused. "If these media titans only realized how much power they have. Newspapers and magazines have the content. It’s as common as water to them, and yet they forget that, in the digital desert, water is

2006年05月18日

这几天每天都在路上被公交长龙堵,我的车的平均油耗已经从10个变成了13个。报纸上说这样的状态还要持续一段时间,又说短期很难改进。

我就搞不清楚,这么大的工程,就不能先试点一下,看看到底成不成?16米长的大公共,设置了3个门就是为了提高上下车的通行量,现在硬要两个门上一个门下,上车就往中门挤,这下小偷高兴了,反正大家都挤。

大公共乘客刷卡的流程是:上车-刷卡-换个门-刷卡-下车,我相信用一个刷卡机是可以实现计费的。为什么不呢?不能给售票员开发个移动刷卡机吗?让下车的在他那儿刷一下。

明明是流程上出了问题,还说我们老百姓素质低,需要适应。一个新产品,不能为本来拥挤的北京交通提高效率,用它干什么。

本来想写长一点的,实在太生气,不写了。

2006年05月10日

51期间,看完了达芬奇密码这本小说,有意思,相信电影也会好看,有DVD版的时候买一张看。

在这里只是想把看小说的时候生出的一个念头记录下来,没准有用。小说中的SOPHIA和她的爷爷从小就玩各种各样的猜谜游戏,玩这个游戏的直接结果就是索尼埃在临死前用一系列密码的形式指导SOPHIA找到了传说中的圣杯。

我是个无线增值业务的从业者,长期以来都在想为用户提供什么样的产品,看小说的时候我就想,能不能设计一个这样的产品,通过一系列的各种形式环环相扣的密码:文字、图片、字母。。。做成一个手机游戏,无所谓短信还是WAP还是KJAVA,让用户去猜去GOOGLE去了解背景知识,然后在现实的环境中找到一个奖品。这样是不是可以提高用户的使用兴趣。

其实也可以用来设计一个市场活动,用相对简单的密码让用户猜出来活动推广的主旨,这样相信用户影响力会很高。

但也有可能失败,因为人的惰性是非常可怕的,只要是麻烦的事情都不愿意做。

2006年04月29日

我认为无线增值业务的前景是非常光明的。

无线增值业务在中国经过6年的发展,至少已经达到了几个方面的成功:

1.普及了短信,任何人都不能否认,没有最初的移动梦网创业计划,手机中的短信功能是不可能被这么快的发掘并普及的。没有最初做短信编辑的贡献,是不可能有现在这么多人在自发的编撰短信的段子娱乐大众的。短信也不会这么快的成为移动电话的基础业务之一。

2. 开发出了许多用户愿意花钱使用的业务。还记得2000年底,第一次在北京晚报上打了下载单音铃声和黑白图片豆腐块广告,客服电话被打爆了,所有的电话都是咨询如何使用,如何下载,如何设置的。2002年我所在的公司开通了同城约会的短信业务,没有做任何强制消费的行为,每天都有4000多人注册使用,每天的聊天量有10多万条。2002年的彩色图片,和弦铃声WAP游戏,都有用户在积极参与,2004年,彩铃业务开通,2005年手机游戏有了新的发展,还有天气预报、新闻、笑话等业务。所有这些业务给用户提供了娱乐和方便。为公司创造了价值。当时2001年时,互联网一片低迷,当短信频道从移动结款100万/月时,对于整个公司来说都是难以置信的事情。

3. 向最多的用户普及了无线增值业务。任何一个市场都需要用户基础,在过去的6年时间内,无线增值业务的用户从无到现在到1亿多,固然有很多泥沙俱下的事情,但是,不可否认的是,这个个行业已经有了庞大的用户基础和用户认知度。在这样大的用户基础上开发业务,只要产品质量,服务水平,市场营销都跟得上,一定会有很好的成绩。

4. 无线增值业务已经渗透到了国民经济的很多行业中。我们可以用短信及时收到我们银行账户的变更信息,用WAP查询当月的话单,用彩铃宣传公司业务。政府部门用短信及时通知重大的灾情疫情等等。

在过去几年,对于无线增值业务的批评从来就没有停止过,这里面有整个产业链中各个环节的问题,有终端厂商标准不统一的问题,有SP黑心抢钱的问题,有运营商监管不力的问题,有国家法律法规不够健全的问题。 这个行业像一个正在成长的小孩子,已经承担了很多负担,但是对他的教育和指导又没有及时跟上,所以,无线增值业务目前出现的问题如果说得严重些,也是青少年违法。如果一定要对他进行个处罚,也应该是罚他的行为被严加监管,罚他的父母在孩子教育问题上拿出切实可行的办法。

在英国有个IVR业务,当用户把手机对准一个音乐音源(正在播放的一首歌,一段乐曲等),拨通一个号码15秒后,可以收到有关这段乐曲资料的短信,同时,能为用户提供音乐下载,彩铃设置等服务。在日本,手机可以作为公交一卡通使用,上公交车或地铁时,对这读卡器晃一下装着手机的包就可以。我们还有很长的路要走,总有一天,无线增值业务会真正的成为经济领域不可或缺的一部分,就像当年的泡沫,现在的互联网。

2006年04月27日

周日去了宜家北京新店,人非常之多,我已经习惯了。

平心而论,新店比原来马甸店的停车位多了,餐厅大了,面积大了,如果没人的时候去应该感觉不错。可是总有几处让人很不爽。

我最不爽的就是宜家的电梯和楼梯的设计,宜家的电梯和楼梯是这样的,作为一个顾客,你只能从1楼直接到3楼,然后绕一大圈才能找到下楼的地方,当然这样可以让顾客尽可能多的看到宜家的产品,但是,我只想到2楼买一件小东西。如果你在2楼逛了一圈之后想起来3楼还有一件东西也许你想看,对不起,只能从你刚才下楼的地方再上去,没有任何办法。如果你在3楼想直接下楼,对不起,电梯只到2楼,您还得换另外一部电梯,或者绕一大圈走楼梯或扶梯下去。和北京其他强横的超市一样,就是要让你绕,就是强迫你看,强迫你多走路。

宜家另外让人不爽的是以前免费的塑料袋,现在要5毛钱,当然他们也提供免费的包装纸和绳子和胶带等等,可能是出于环保的考虑,可能是节约成本的考虑,不管是出于什么考虑,我只买了三件小东西,但是占了我两只手,如果我不愿意花5毛钱买塑料袋,我只能去用牛皮纸和胶带粘一个纸袋,这样就环保了,可是纸是要砍了树造出来的,我从来不同意用塑料袋比用纸袋环保的说法。况且这样更浪费。

我还有一点不爽,就是停车场,停车场足够大了,但是进口和出口的设计让人感觉非常的不方便。可能去多了摸索出门道就好了,可是谁天天去那儿阿!

所以,我决定,以后,把去宜家的次数缩减到最多半年一次,能在其他地方买到的东西绝不上那儿去,再说,4元桥,望京,大山子,想想都害怕,不是一般司机,绝对不敢到那儿开车去。

2006年04月25日

广州天悦明天新闻发布会,我本来是要去的,杨总说这几天广交会,机票全价,酒店翻6番。考虑到我刚刚失业,新的事业也还没有开始,为了给我省钱,杨总建议我不要去了。只能在这儿写个帖子祝贺他。

我在2003年底认识杨总,然后加入了光通,最后下定决心加入光通的原因是我参观了当时光通的办公室,那时光通员工在晚上11点之后都在热情高涨的工作,有回家吃过饭后又回来工作的,有的甚至一周都不回家,全部自觉自愿。我当时想,有这样一支拼命的团队,光通何愁无往而不利。加入这样的团队是我的机会,所以我加入了光通。

光通在上海为外地员工租有公寓,杨总家在广州,但是他在上海时都住办公室,所以我们都习惯了晚上11点以后开会讨论问题。他在深圳有一套很大的别墅,但是常年只住着保姆和狗,杨总有很严重的胃病,但是经常在办公室吃盒饭,也经常因为要陪客户而喝多。

我曾经问过杨总,他已经有了豪宅,名车,相信存款也不会少,相信即便他不工作也可以天天打球喝酒过安逸的生活,这样拼命工作为了什么,何况他在光通还没有任何股份。杨总当时的回答是,男人都要追求成功的快感,其实真正成功之后的快乐延续是很短暂的,所以,我们要在达到一个目标之后追求更高的目标。

杨总是我的老师,用了2年的时间使我对工作对人对钱的认识提高了一大截,感谢杨总。

光通曾经创造了一个辉煌,相信天悦会创造另外一个辉煌。祝天悦成功,祝杨总成功。

2006年04月12日

我想说的老师是认真做老师的人,有职业老师也有每天给其他人传道授业解惑的普通人。

老师经常把自己对于学问、人生、世界的体会和方法教给学生,而学生往往并不能理解和接受,对于老师来说,悲剧的宿命在于:老师知道他自己讲的道理学生不理解,但是还是要一次次的去讲,希望听讲的学生中有一两个可以听懂并接受。

学生由于其年龄、经历、对于课题的了解程度的原因,很难理解并接受老师的观点。其实,全听老师和父母话的孩子,在其人生经历中,要少走很多弯路,但是这样的孩子又不被大众认同,我们到底喜欢小新多些还是风间多些,答案大家都知道。

人生就是这样,父母、师长谆谆教导的人生道理,非要到了自己碰得头破血流之后才能认识到并接受为真理。

老师的悲剧在于,传道授业解惑是一定要去做的事情,是一种不可逃避的义务,但是这种义务的回报往往来得太晚:等到学生自己也成了老师的时候,才知道当时老师为什么这样说。

所以,不要做老师,说了没有用,学生会自己找到真理,在实践中。