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FreeLoader takes on PointCast

FreeLoader will unveil a personalized news sevice using push technology later this month that competes directly with PointCast.

Despite signs that a shakeout is due in the emerging industry for "push" technology, FreeLoader is ready to join the fray, through plans to introduce a service and software later this month that will pit it directly against PointCast.

On April 28, FreeLoader, a subsidiary of Individual (INDV), will unveil News Topics, a client that allows users to automatically receive personalized news broadcast on their desktops, according to Bill Nguyen, vice president of Internet products at FreeLoader. Nguyen said the company will announce details about News Topics at the Internet Showcase conference.

Like PointCast, FreeLoader will automatically transmit information to users' desktops over the Internet so that they don't have to venture out to Web sites themselves. But FreeLoader believes it can differentiate itself from PointCast by offering information that is better tailored to users' tastes.

The company will need to distinguish itself from more established competitors like PointCast if it wants to survive in the increasingly crowded push market. There has already been one casualty in the push market, IFusion, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection. Some industry observers expect more push companies will face trouble soon.

Right now, PointCast organizes information feeds into channels associated with a single publisher, say CNN or the The New York Times. With News Topics though, FreeLoader will use intelligent agent software to collate feeds into specific business topics, from the oil industry to manufacturing.

"If you look at most of the software out there, the channels aren't focused on users," said Nguyen. "They're focused on content providers. It's all about who's got the button that gets the most clicks."

FreeLoader's greatest asset in competing against PointCast may prove to be the relationships its parent company, Individual, already has with information providers. Individual operates a personalized news service called NewsPage, though users have to get to it the old-fashioned way--by surfing to a Web site. Nguyen said News Topics will feature information feeds from many of the same publishers, over 600 in all, available to NewsPage users.

The News Topics service will be supported by advertising, not software sales--the same business model followed by PointCast.

Eventually, Nguyen said, News Topics will not require FreeLoader's software. The company plans to deliver its news feeds to both the Active Desktop, a feature of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0, and Constellation, a future part of Netscape Communications' Communicator software. Nguyen also said that users will be able to receive News Topics on pagers.

FreeLoader already has some experience in the push arena. The company was among the first to create an offline browser that let users snatch entire Web sites for reading when disconnected from the Net. Offline browsers are similar to push clients in their ability to automatically retrieve Web information.