By: Steve Outing

In recent interactive publishing announcements, many from last week's Internet World conference, "push" is the buzzword of choice. If you're a publisher operating on the Internet, and you're not pushing digital content (but instead making consumers come and get it on your Web site) ... well, the hype about push would suggest that you're behind the curve!

We've heard a lot of excited talk about push in recent days. Microsoft announced its "Channel Definition Format" (CDF), an important open-standard format for delivering content on the World Wide Web meant to inject some standards into the chaotic, fledgling push industry. Push pioneer PointCast opened up its software to any Web site that wants to automatically broadcast information over the Internet, with a program called PointCast Connections. Most of the other players in the push game have had announcements of their own in the last week.

Yet with all this activity and hype, analysts still muse over where push is going. An emerging view is that push is becoming a commodity, and will soon enough become an assumed part of the Web user's experience. At some point in the not too distant future, every client Web browser will have the ability to subscribe to any piece of content that an Internet publisher might make available. Post-Internet World, some analysts could be heard opining that some of the push players getting headlines today won't be around 12 months from now.

Are you confused yet?

To publishers with content to push, all the hoopla about push technologies might seem confusing. They recognize the importance of delivering their content to consumers (rather than expecting consumers to come to their Web sites), but choosing the right push technology partner to achieve that goal is no simple matter. Publishers must divine which will be among the winning horses.

One of the first things that a publisher might do to make sense of all this is to match the content with the push method most appropriate for it, according to Vin Crosbie, president of Boston-based consultancy Digital Deliverance and an authority on e-mail and push technologies.

E-mail is the right push channel for much content that a news publisher might want to deliver digitally. Using a newspaper metaphor, Crosbie says that the content that's best suited to get pushed out via e-mail channels is "back of the book stuff": columns, news digests, comic strips, crossword puzzles, horoscopes, club listings, etc. This is information that people look for every day, probably at a consistent time. This Stop The Presses! column, which is published three days a week, is best suited for delivery as an e-mail document (either in HTML Web format or converted to ASCII text), for example.

A publisher's options for delivering this kind of content can be whittled down to several: 1) Simple list (sometimes referred to as "listserv") or e-mail broadcasting applications, such as LSoft's ListServ, Lyris or Email Publishing's E-Broadcaster, which can send out content in either ASCII or HTML format. 2) Working with companies like FreeLoader, which provides a client application that allows users to subscribe to Web pages and have them delivered. 3) Participating in Netscape's Inbox Direct program, which helps publishers send out HTML documents for viewing by Internet consumers who use the Netscape Navigator browser as a mail reader. And 4) working with companies like Digital Bindery, which allows its users to subscribe to any Web page and delivers the page as an HTML document whenever the content changes. This last option is controversial, however. Digital Bindery has been criticized by legal authorities because it copies and delivers copyrighted Web pages without obtaining the permission of the copyright.

Some news content is simply ill-suited for e-mail delivery. A push content service that sends out breaking news headlines or stock prices every 15 minutes during the trading day doesn't work as an e-mail service. The delivered mail stacks up in the user's inbox, and as new items arrive they make the older ones worthless -- yet they remain in the inbox to be dealt with by the consumer. Breaking headlines delivered as e-mail may be old news by the time the recipient actually gets around to reading them.

The breaking news -- what Crosbie calls "front of the book" content -- is the stuff that fits well with some of the push systems like PointCast, Downtown, Marimba, BackWeb and others. The news bulletin that alerts readers to a plane crash, or the sudden rise of an individual's stock holdings, is the stuff that fits well with the personal broadcast network model represented by push technologies like Pointcast (news and ads presented in a screen saver format) or Downtown (news headlines presented in a thin scrolling bar that's always on screen, waiting to alert you to something important).

These systems push content to a container, where new news overwrites old. The once-every-15-minute stock report or the real-time game-in-progress scores are useful in this model because as the reader views the information, it is always up to date.

E-mail services, where a consumer wants something predictable delivered on a set schedule, aren't good for serendipitous content, either, says Crosbie. A push technology that pops up on a user's screen a scrolling headline bar is great for alerting the user when a major story breaks. A PointCast-like news screen saver is appropriate for sending interesting news items that a user might otherwise not see, but may pop up during a PointCast session.

4-pronged attack

The savvy Internet publisher today, says Crosbie, should be looking at utilizing four separate online techniques -- both push and pull:

* The browsing medium. Of course, your Web site is the core of your online business, and your central business will be in getting people to visit your site.
* Telephony/conferencing. A good Internet publishing strategy includes hosting live chat and conferencing. This is the interactive component of any good online service.
* "Deliverance." This is what Crosbie calls the e-mail delivery schemes, which push out content -- possibly customized, such as weather reports to an audience based on each user's Zip code -- on a scheduled basis. The medium is either text e-mail or HTML (multimedia) e-mail.
* Net broadcasting. These are the various push technologies -- PointCast, BackWeb, Intermind Communicator, Downtown, Marimba, and others -- that essentially broadcast a single piece of content to many people.

Web publishers should strike a good balance, making sure all four areas are covered, says Crosbie. Remember, too, that the two flavors of digital pushed content have the same goal: to drive more traffic to the core Web site, which is why Web publishers should be concentrating some of their resources on push right now. Letting people subscribe to an HTML e-mail version of your Web site's front news page is a great way to get more people to your site as they request full stories from within the delivered front page. Likewise, participation in online personal broadcast networks like Pointcast are Web site traffic boosters.

Crosbie believes that things will get simpler in time as the functionality of receiving content gets built into the Web browser. The days of consumers having to download and configure multiple proprietary applications in order to receive content from multiple publishers are not long for this world. Later this year, he expects to see a common, full graphical e-mail standard make "deliverance" easier for publishers. And he's bullish on Microsoft's CDF standard, which he believes could eventually supplant HTML. (CDF is basically a hybrid of HTML, the language that builds most Web pages, and SGML, a more advanced page description language. CDF does everything that HTML does, plus more.)

Looking for advice? Keep pushing. As Crosbie says in the signature of every e-mail message he sends out, "Content should come to the consumers, not consumers to content. No commercial medium has ever survived without delivery."

Contact: Vin Crosbie,


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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

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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