Magazine article Information Today

It's Push, Jim but Not as We Know It

Magazine article Information Today

It's Push, Jim but Not as We Know It

Article excerpt

Until recently, I was confident that I knew what push was. Moreover, I believed that push was a "good thing." Then IE 4.0 and Netscape's Channel Finder were launched, and after spending the better part of 2 days trying to set up Web channels, I've come to realize that push is probably not the creature I thought it was.

Still, watching the plethora of multicolored channel windows glinting at me from the melancholy black of my Active Desktop, which every now and then turns a nauseating off-white as the system goes into "Active Desktop Recovery" mode, I can see the aesthetic attraction of it. Usefulness is another matter.

Where's the Value?

Believe me, I gave it my best shot, and I've spent a lot of time trying to get some value out of some familiar European brands. I began with the Financial Times, only to discover that the FT's channel is really little more than a repackaged shortcut to the newspaper's Web page (http://www.ft.com). In fact, anyone without a pre-existing registration to ft.com will not be able to access the full text of many of the stories being offered. Moreover, apart from dumping its headlines on my hard disk, there seemed to be little that was actually pushed at me, and as I already have the FT site bookmarked, I couldn't see what I'd gained. As for the "two-deck ticker" the FT promised, I couldn't find it anywhere.

As I was to discover, the FI's channel is about as good as it gets. After trying a few more that simply crashed my system, I turned to MAID's "Home Business Centre" channel. Here, I was confronted with a series of error messages and was invited to call my "local support centre" (if only), where I was instructed to quote obscure references such as: www.maidbusinesscentre.com/bin/get_report203. Persevering, I eventually managed to get the service to display a map of Pakistan, but became suspicious when its currency calculator suggested that one Pakistan Rupee is worth XX.XXXX German Marks. (Are those Roman numerals? I wondered.) I was also puzzled about a push service that required me to input search terms in the traditional pull manner.

Finally, I tuned in to the Reuters channel, where I was presented with a short description of Reuters Business Briefing and invited to fill in an order form to obtain details of Reuters' intranet product. Curious at this startling lack of useful content, I called up the international marketing communications manager for Reuters Business Information Products, Paul Waddington. "At the moment, we're just using it as another marketing channel for our traditional subscription," he confessed. "The message right now is: `We're here. Come and take a look."'

But at what?

Things were no better with Netscape's Channel Finder, which runs at the speed of a dead cat. We're told there are 700 channels available; I found far fewer. Moreover, I was hard pressed to find even one channel offering European content. When I finally decided to take out subscriptions to the Wired (http://www. wired.com) and Fast Company (http:// www.fastcompany.com) services, Channel Finder thrashed my hard disk for several minutes, and then politely informed me that these channels were "coming soon."

OK, I admit it. I've had a bad channel day (or two). But I am disappointed. Call me naive, but I had thought Microsoft and Netscape would deliver something that was user-friendly. I had also expected their much-hyped push solutions to provide me with a little more information that was relevant and useful. In my disappointment, I suggested to Microsoft's U.K. Internet customer unit manager, Bruce Lynn, that users would be better off if they simply turned the channels off.

"Maybe I'm too close to it, but I've not had the problems you mention," he replied, before conceding, "It's a new concept so there are bound to be a few issues at first." Maybe. But here in Europe the arrival of Web channels has only exacerbated a growing skepticism about push. …

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