Push...Back? An Old Technology Teaches Content New Tricks

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This Time It's Personal
"The biggest challenge has been in the realm of personalization," says Trineer. Whether it is on the desktop or a cell phone, people don't want extraneous information pushed on to them, yet filling out the profiles necessary to filter these feeds adequately has been a wall many users have not climbed. "There are a lot of people who don't know how to do that effectively, even though it's pretty darn simple," he says.

Arguably, WeatherBug succeeded because it pushes highly localized information that is immediately relevant to that user when and where she is. And push technology providers like Serence recognize that "Personalization is directly related to customer retention or loyalty," says Wille, so getting users over the personalization hump is critical to the future of push. Many industry figures feel that pre-personalized information such as online auction alerts or fantasy sports updates are likely to be the earliest beneficiaries of push on the desktop and mobile. In these cases, customers already have highly individuated profiles in place online that content providers can use to send just the sort of time-sensitive, personally relevant material that make the push platform so appealing.

Infogate is bumping the technology up a notch with what Boro calls "contextual personalization." Rather than setting the initial profiling barrier too high, recent revisions to his system in the CNN NewsWatch product feed new keywords to users as they read content. Users can add, remove, or refine their feeds on-the-fly. In order for push to catch on with users, "personalization is key," he says.

Ultimately, cell phones will allow for geographically targeted push information such as traffic updates, which are smart enough to know where you and your cell are located. "It holds the promise of being able to combine content with personalization and location, so it can reach out to tell you when something important has happened [nearby]. In surveys, people say they would pay for that," says Trineer.

Within the enterprise, however, Rick Van Well, CTO of RocketInfo says that the trick to improving relevance goes way beyond personalization. His technology not only pushes internally-generated content and aggregated news onto executive desktops at companies like Sun and Bank of Montreal, but it also ranks its relevance, according to whether others in an organization or a "critical reader" like Sun CEO Scott McNealy have read the piece. "We're far more concerned with all of the relevant indicators that improve consumption," says Van Well. "The content distribution method is irrelevant if end-consumers do not read what is delivered. If push technology increases consumption rates, well, maybe it has a shot."

Welcome to Earlyadopterland
Getting a shot at users is all the pushers of push say they really need. "I would be lying to you if I said [push] is in the mainstream market. We're very much in Earlyadopterland," says Wille.

In fact, content providers generally remain curious but reserved about the push prospects. "It's not huge on our radar screen right now," says SportingNews. com's Stone. Only about 3,000 of his sports nuts have signed up for the Serence-run desktop feed thus far, but for now it's more a matter of keeping a hand in the business. "We think there's potential there," he says, "but we're waiting to see how big it gets."

Everyone behind push's second run seems to agree that awareness is the biggest hill the industry has to climb. Users who try it, generally like it and tend to become push loyalists. "The challenge of the business is getting more people to try it efficiently," says Boro. Infogate partners like LATimes.com and CNN are trying a number of pricing incentives and free versions to get their users over the hurdle of downloading and installing a memory-resident feed. In fact, since Boros's revenue depends upon the number of subs his partners sell, he builds into contracts provisions for a minimum number of marketing impressions the partner will provide on the site in exchange for his turnkey solution.

But much like the larger world of dotcoms in a post-bubble economy, push is also fighting to overcome its own past reputation. "Bad experiences with push technologies of old still linger in corporate memories," says Van Well. In other words, push still has some pushing left to do.

Companies Featured in This Article

CNN Newswatch http://newswatch. cnn.com
Infogate www.infogate.com
LATimes.com NewsDirect http://newsdirect.latimes.com
Serence www.serence.com
SportingNews.com www.sportingnews.com
QPass www.qpass.com
RocketInfo www.rocketinfo.com
USA Today NewsTracker http://newstracker.usatoday.com

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