by Flip Michaels
Most of us Web-slingers gain access to Internet content by pulling it. When using your browser, each time you click on a link, your browser sends a request to the Web server (a pull) asking for that relevant page, which your browser then downloads and displays.
A new technology has arrived called "Push." It's this month's buzz-word, so we know it's cool. But what is it really about? With push, the server doesn't wait for you to request a page; instead, when the content you've signed up for or requested is ready, the server delivers it (a push) automatically to your computer so you can read or hear or watch it whenever you desire. "Hey, Mr. McGoo, what can it do for you?"
If you're a regular user of services like My Yahoo and Personal News Page, the push concept should bring a smile to that heavy production loaded, TV sweep'd face of yours. My Yahoo, for example, allows you to create your own newspaper. Pick particular stock quotes, sports and corresponding teams plus national, local news, weather and health fields. Each day, you just visit your My Yahoo on the Web and you get your own newspaper.
Push takes the idea one step further by reversing the paradigm: more return, less effort. It delivers information we want or need; we no longer have to brave cyberspace to seek it out. What makes push so appealing for radio stations is its promise of tidy solutions for business problems old and new, from keeping Production Directors informed about the latest SAW update and delivering the latest movie .wav file, to bringing your Web-station site visitors back again and again.
Both Netscape and Microsoft have big plans for push technology. The pushing match will begin when new versions of these companies' respective browsers arrive later this year. Netscape's Constellation and Microsoft's Active Desktop will extend the browser wars to Internet broadcasting, with the rivals competing for desktop space and for the favor of content providers looking to deliver information to their subscribers. In the process, these new products from Netscape and Microsoft just might make push the primary concern of Net-app developers.
More than a dozen companies involved in this technology are promoting their own push brand. The short list includes BackWeb (www.backweb.com), Ifusion (www.ifusion.com), InCommon (www.incommon.com), Intermind (www.intermind.com), Marimba (www.marimba.com), NETdelivery (www.netdelivery.com), PointCast (www.pointcast.com), and Wayfarer (www.wayfarer.com).
Each offers a different flavor of push technology for a special fee. Content on PointCast is general-interest stuff (news, weather, sports and business) while Ifusion sees its Arrive Network as an extension of your TV, right down to the remote channel selector. Push could snow users under a blizzard of alerts. Some will even push data to car phones and pagers. Point is, the Web has gotten too big to find our way around it effectively, efficiently. With public sites numbering in the 100,000s, what's needed is a way to make our medium's information come to us. Be sure to take the first new step in the digital domain by visiting some of these sites to see what they have to offer. The returns aren't all in; as a matter of fact, we're still reading the first book of Genesis. But for those of us who haven't made up our minds, we should probably at the very least continue to pay close attention to the debate.