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PointCast pushes envelope

Internet World The pioneer of "push" technology opens its software to any Web site that wants to automatically broadcast information online.

Internet World LOS ANGELES--PointCast, a pioneer of Internet "push" technology, announced today that it is opening up its software to any Web site that wants to automatically broadcast information over the Net.

As reported last night by CNET, the new software will offer an information "channel" that lets Internet publishers transmit information even if they haven't signed on as one of PointCast's content partners. The product, called "PointCast Connections," could help deflect mounting criticism that PointCast is a proprietary network.

The channel is analogous to a public-access television station that allows various groups, ranging from a children's soccer team to a Fortune 500 corporation, to provide programming instead of running a limited number of big-name shows. Some companies believe that push technology could make the Web more popular with consumers deluged with too much information.

PointCast Connections will be available as part of PointCast 2.0, an upgraded version of the company's client software that is due out in beta in April.

The new channel coincides with a bold initiative announced last night by Microsoft to create a standard for Internet broadcasting called Channel Definition Format, or CDF. (See related story)

Although it is credited with defining the new breed of push technologies, PointCast has also been criticized for maintaining a proprietary system that excludes smaller publishers.

Unlike the Web, where anyone with the right technology skills can become a publisher, PointCast has handpicked companies such as CNN and the New York Times to broadcast their stories over the PointCast Network. The channels are transmitted from PointCast's powerful in-house servers, and in return, content providers share advertising dollars from their channels with PointCast.

By opening PCN, PointCast could create a more democratic network in which a greater variety of content flourishes.

On the other hand, PointCast's new channel also could trigger an explosion of material that clutters up user's screens unless they can easily filter out unwanted information. Push technology is based on the premise of automatically sending selected information to users so they don't have to manually surf through piles of Web sites.

At the CDF announcement, PointCast chief executive Chris Hassett said standard Web servers can't broadcast as much data as PointCast's specialized servers. He estimated that a single Web server could transmit content to 15,000 to 25,000 users simultaneously, while PointCast's servers transmit information to more than a million users a day.

"If I'm a CNN, I want to reach a million people simultaneously," he said.

PointCast said today that it would not attempt to censor channels on PointCast Connections that contain explicit content. However, it will allow Web site ratings agencies to rate channels so that users can filter them accordingly.