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PointCast: Pushing a paradigm


Push came to shove, digitally speaking, for delivery of Web content when a Silicon Valley start-up introduced the most innovative development of 1996.

In February, a company called PointCast introduced a combination browser and screensaver designed to broadcast, or push, news and information to users' computers. That users like the idea of information delivery rather than having to surf mindlessly through the overwhelming amount of information available online is clear: By the end of the year, PointCast had 1.5 million users.

Naturally enough, push technology became a must-have for all the top vendors. Microsoft's Active Desktop and Netscape's Constellation--both versions of push technology--are scheduled for release when Internet Explorer 4.0 and Communicator hit the streets next year.

Of course, it hasn't been a smooth sailing for PointCast. Several companies were concerned enough with the network resources the PointCast system hogged that they either took if off their system or barred it altogether. Another concern of managers was the loss -- real or perceived -- in worker productivity. The rationale was that if users were constantly being bombarded with information they were more likely to spend time perusing non-work related data.

The Internet purists, on the other hand, take issue with the whole "push" concept. Their conern is that this idea of consuming information passively, and within the solitary confines of the individual's PC, destroys the very spirit of the Net: interactivity and community. Proponents counter that this is not an "either" "or" situation. Users, they contend, will want to continue to do both - i.e. receive information passively as well as engage in the interactive aspects of the Web.

Regardless, dozens of companies are being drawn to this broadcasting paradigm because they see a big financial payback. According to research firm Yankee Group, this segment of the Internet business is going to grow from the current $10 million in revenues to $5.7 billion by the turn of the century.

No wonder, these vendors are happy to be "pushed" into this corner of the market.