By: Steve Outing
There’s never a dull moment on the Internet, it seems. Just when you think you’ve seen some new technology to beat all others, a week or month later comes along something even more cool. That’s how I felt when I learned about the latest online publishing tool from Seattle-based Intermind, with its new product called “Communicator.”
I’ve written periodically in this column about the transition that’s about to take place between standard Web site publishing (where the consumer must “pull” in content; that is, actively seek it out by visiting a site) and personalized delivery services (where multimedia content is “pushed” to the consumer). Examples of the latter, mentioned here previously, include Mercury Mail and Netscape’s Inbox Direct.
Intermind Communicator is an interesting entry into the field of “push” publishing. And like Mercury Mail and Inbox Direct, it integrates personalized delivery of content to the consumer with a publication’s Web site. (All three of these ventures point to the direction Web sites will take in the coming year — away from a reliance on consumer visits to online content and toward personalized delivery.)
The ‘hyper-connector’ concept
Publishers can use Communicator to set up what Intermind calls “Hyperconnectors,” which are basically content topics that contain information that a publisher wishes to deliver to interested customers. A newspaper Web site might set up a series of Hyperconnectors for different local sports teams, for example. A Web site visitor could click on a particular team topic within the sports Hyperconnector, which is then downloaded to his PC and read by the client version of Communicator. By retrieving the teams Hyperconnector, the consumer is telling the publisher that he wishes to receive content that is “published” to that particular Hyperconnector topic by the publisher — which might be game summaries, previews, injury reports, etc. The subscriber can set parameters of what he’d like to receive from the publisher’s Hyperconnector.
What gets delivered to the subscribing consumer are hypertext documents, so we’re talking about publishing in multimedia format. Gone are the days when short of operating a “pull” model Web site, the only choice was sending out simple text-only content.
The possibilities here are quite attractive. Publishers can set up Hyperconnectors for many content topics. A newspaper Web site might have a page where visitors can choose topics that would send them the paper’s movie reviews; obituaries; local baseball team coverage and stats; a daily TV schedule; etc.
Communicator works as a separate client application (it’s free for the subscriber), and integrates into the client Web browser. The Communicator application keeps track of the Hyperconnectors that it has subscribed to, and polls the Hyperconnector on the publisher site for new content; if it finds it, the information is downloaded to the subscriber’s PC for later reading (which can be done off-line).
A solution to e-mail overload
One of the key advantages to the Communicator concept is that it is separated from a consumer’s normal e-mail channels, according to Intermind founder and project management group director Drummond Reed. Rather than subscribing to multiple e-mail delivery services that plunk everything into your e-mail box — which you might filter via controls in your e-mail application — delivered content from subscribed Hyperconnectors is stored in the Communicator client application, divided up into different topics. Reed says this is important because when a consumer subscribes to a number of e-mail services, it’s too easy to become overloaded with incoming data. Communicator places all of its subscribed content in a separate place, to be read and sorted with the help of the Communicator client application. A consumer’s personal e-mail messages are not mixed in with delivered Hyperconnector content.
Reed says that the concept supports either free or paid digital delivery services. A publisher might set up a Hyperconnector that requires a password to receive its content, or allow free subscriptions with complete consumer anonymity. Many publishers will offer their delivered content free, supported by advertising, which is easily delivered in graphic format along with editorial content. Reed says that Communicator presents a particularly compelling advertising medium, because it makes it simple to target ads to particular interest groups.
Non-commercial publishing using Communicator is free. Commercial publishers pay a monthly fee to Intermind to use the technology. This may be based on a set fee per subscriber, per month; a percentage of revenues created by the service; or a fee per message published. Reed says each deal is negotiated individually. Subscribers pay nothing, unless the publisher puts a fee on its Hyperconnector-delivered content.
Communicator currently is available for Windows95, NT and Windows 3.1 users, with a Macintosh version due by the end of 1996, followed by a Unix version. The lack of a Mac version is a definite drawback that will prevent some publishers from using Communicator initially. But to Intermind’s credit, they are committed to supporting the Mac and in fact have some prominent Mac publishers waiting to use Communicator.
Intermind is the latest entry into the digital delivery field, and there will others. (In fact, Intermind already has a major competitor called BackWeb, which offers a very similar product.) This is going to be the hot area of Internet publishing development to watch in the coming year. Stay tuned for more.
Contact: Drummond Reed, firstname.lastname@example.org
A radio host relies on Internet newspapers, e-mail
Recently I received a note from Winnipeg, Manitoba, radio host Roger Currie, about how the Internet is changing his job:
“I host a very successful morning radio show at CJOB in Winnipeg. Our format is news/talk and the morning show consists of one substantial interview per half hour plus live mobile traffic reports and lots of news and sports updates. Like most radio operations nowadays, a host/producer like myself has to deliver most of the interview content himself including the research, and I’m always under pressure to come up with ‘new’ voices and not rely on the same people all the time.
“I got online a year ago this month and what a difference it has made. I now survey 4 or 5 online newspapers each morning and I maintain an ever growing network of e-mail contacts. Between a third and half of the stories I do each week now have some Internet-related connection to them. Quite often I find myself talking to people ‘on air’ whom I have solicited through e-mail after reading an article about them and tracking them down on a search engine. I also pass on many other ideas to other shows on our station.
“I maintain my own Web site and, as time goes by, it’s becoming a good vehicle for story tips and general listener feedback. I don’t know where the future of journalism is taking us, but I certainly feel a lot more ’empowered’ to deal with the endless stream of change than I did 12 months ago.”
Contact: Roger Currie, email@example.com
Internet publishing consultants profiled
You might want to check out Christian Science Monitor editor Anne Collier’s WEBusiness column this week, which features a profile of interactive publishing consultants Rosalind Resnick, Eric Meyer, Mindy McAdams and me. Collier’s series of articles can be found at http://www.csmonitor.com.
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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company.