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Channel surfing online

Net surfers may be spending less time watching television, but companies are nevertheless relying on a tried-and-true TV metaphor for drawing users to their information services: channels.

Net surfers may be spending less time watching television, but companies are nevertheless relying on a tried-and-true TV metaphor for drawing users to their information services: channels.

This week at Comdex, Web sites are out while Web channels are conspicuously in, with companies such as Netscape Communications, IFusion Com, and AirMedia offering technologies that illustrate the degree to which characteristics of the Internet and broadcast media are mingling.

All of the companies aim to achieve the same basic goal: automatically distributing information such as news headlines and stock quotes to users without requiring them to manually visit a Web site or online service. While the companies are taking slightly different approaches to broadcasting information, nevertheless they are all working on bringing more choice and selectivity to users as far as what is pushed and when.

IFusion's Arrive is a client program and Web site that allows users to schedule the type of information they want to receive from various information providers through their Web browsers. Today, the company announced partnerships with eight different information providers that will provide information channels on Arrive, including Epic Records, GolfWeb, KPIX, Showtime Networks, Ski News from AMI, USA Today, The Weather Channel, and Yahoo.

The company describes its solution as a "personal broadcast system" that allows users to manage the information they receive through an interactive Channel Guide. The service and software go into public beta testing in January.

AirMedia this week also beefed up its AirMedia Live Internet Broadcast Network, a service that delivers news and other information from the Internet to users via a wireless network. The AirMedia Live system monitors a constant stream of data from Internet information sources, filters the broadcasts, and then sends them to users via pager or through Global Village's NewsCatcher receiver.

Today, the company announced a partnership with CNN to offer news headlines to AirMedia live users. AirMedia also announced a program to encourage hardware vendors to bundle its service with wireless devices and PCs.

Netscape may make the biggest splash in the area of Internet broadcasting. On Wednesday, the company plans to showcase a new technology, code-named Constellation, that allows users to automatically receive information channels from ordinary Web servers into browsers. Netscape will also announce deals with two pioneers int he area of Net broadcasting, PointCast and Marimba.