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

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Now We Got It Right
Virtually everyone in the push world is quick to acknowledge that the format continues to dig out from under the reputation of early dotcom victim PointCast. Even Boro, whose company bought the company that bought out PointCast's technology, admits that the original bad boy of push was rudely intrusive on the desktop, a resource and bandwidth hog, and hopelessly buggy. Regardless of the bad rep, push still makes sense as a distribution scheme, Boro insists. "I profoundly believe that information you care about delivered in a way you find appealing is better than having to look all over the place for it," he says. And so, Infogate, like Serence's KlipFolio and AWS's WeatherBug are much less obtrusive desktop feed systems that poll the servers more judiciously and play well with other apps.

Another factor in push's re-emergence is that back-end cost structure and development headaches have eased considerably in recent years. Systems like Serence and Infogate call pull data from partner sites easily and with little to no work on the publisher's end. The rising popularity of the Rich Site Summary (RSS) XML format also makes it easier for a site's basic headline and story summaries to feed into a variety of newsreaders like Serence.

Most developer toolsets now bundle in easy methods for converting Web site content into alternative formats, even for mobile says Tom Trineer, VP of product at QPass, which provides back-end payment systems for pushing premium content across yet another emerging market for the format, cell phones. "Things really have converged such that it is not a big nosebleed for the content provider anymore," he says.

Into the Enterprise
It comes as no surprise that the real push for push is most likely to come from business itself. "The money is flowing from the enterprise," says Wille. "We have had more success bringing content providers into the enterprise than we have had monetizing content providers focused on consumers." Serence recently formed a strategic alliance with business news search service and aggregator RocketInfo to deliver fee-based market intelligence feeds to corporate and government desktops for up to $500 per seat per year. Companies want information filtered better, says Wille, so that the specific markets and even competitors they monitor are delivered efficiently.

Serence partner RocketInfo provides an even better example of how push can work within corporations. Profitable and in business for five years, the Canadian company feeds highly filtered competitive intelligence company-wide to desktops at Sun Microsystems and Bank of Montreal. Currently, it is servicing a Prime Minister candidate. "They use the software to track competitors," says Rick Van Well, CTO of RocketInfo. "His team has information pushed to desktop and mobile devices." RocketInfo's server setup and licensing fees run between $25,000 and $200,000 a year.

In fact, business environments, which have both the cash and the bandwidth for content delivery mechanisms like these, are the best supporters of broader consumer newsfeeds as well. Infogate finds that about two-thirds of its customers are getting feeds at work, and employers reimburse almost half of those customers, says Boro.

Pushing Thin Air
The cellular mobile platform may offer the most lucrative prospect for a post-browsing world of pushed digital data. Yahoo! and MSN already do a good deal of this, says Trineer, and most carriers already have a content delivery system in place for text-enabled phones. The alerts, headlines, sports scores, and stock quotes that already go to our cells are in effect a push approach. "I think it's going to be big," he says. "There is a lot of anticipation for those services doing quite well."

Pushing data to cells phones acts much like an email alert system, says Trineer. Publishers simply register a user at a Web site, collect their data choice, phone number, and carrier name, and then they send the relevant updates to the carrier's message center. Customers get the messages when they check in, and if the phone isn't activated over the course of a few days, the message center simply drops the alert. While most next-gen mobile data carriers are selling the idea of cell phone Web access, Trineer and others feel it is highly unlikely many people will want to pull information by browsing on the more recent enhanced color phone screens. Push is the likely model here. 

Better still for publishers, and much unlike the free content tradition of the Web, phone users are accustomed to paying for extra services in this medium. "Many analysts predict that messaging overall will be a larger source of revenue than query-based transactions because most people think about their phones in a message-oriented sort of way," says Trineer.

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