This sidebar to When push comes to news appeared in the May 1997 issue of The American Journalism Review.
Internet news services can custom-tailor your news and deliver it fast. They work well as supplements to your news diet, but they can’t yet compete with print media’s portability or with television news’ visual impact.
Following are the major players in the push news landscape. All of the services or programs are free to the user, though on rare occasion some material — like the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition — requires a separate subscription. All will do Windows on your PC, with Mac versions available or in development for most. Better hurry with that download, though. Some of these start-ups may be gone within a year.
Headquarters: Cupertino, California
Web site: www.pointcast.com
The screen-saver that changed the face of push, PointCast is the most mature and stable of the push technologies. It works like a screen-saver, displaying scrolling news headlines, sports scores, stock quotes and company news based on selections you’ve made from a list of dozens of topics. Content from the New York Times, CNN, Wired and other news sources is displayed–along with animated ads. The downside? When active, PointCast all but assumes control of your computer.
Headquarters: San Mateo, California
Web site: www.incommon.com
Downtown takes a minimalist approach to push-pull. An unobtrusive task bar lets you program and access different “channels” of information. Content providers like the New York Times, USA Today and Yahoo News — which pay a $10,000 fee for the software as well as annual subscriber fees — have complete control over the content and appearance of the news and ads that are delivered to consumers’ desktops, allowing for greater “brand” identity. When new information becomes available on a channel, a small green indicator light flicks on.
Company: BackWeb Technologies
Headquarters: San Jose, California
Web site: www.backweb.com
BackWeb delivers a mixed bag of multimedia, from news to software updates, which users can access via windows or in screen-saver mode. Its consumer-oriented list of channels includes astrology, dating and singles information, music, PBS and the Weather Channel. Like inCommon, BackWeb sells its software tools to content providers and corporations, which create their own Webcast channels.
Headquarters: Palo Alto, California
Web site: www.marimba.com
Causing the biggest stir in push circles, Marimba is commanding torrents of press attention, less for its content than its ability to update business software applications and deliver multimedia games while users are logged on doing other things. Marimba uses Java applets (mini-programs that work on Windows, Mac and Unix) to deliver a rich multimedia experience to the end user. Its early content offerings are meager, but its alliances with both Microsoft and Netscape suggest Marimba will remain a player.
Product: Intermind Communicator
Headquarters: Seattle, Washington
Web site: www.intermind.com
Communicator’s chief virtue is that it allows you to access any site running Intermind’s easy-to-install server software, so that Tabitha’s Free Stuff and your neighborhood Little League roundup can “broadcast” alongside CNN and MSNBC. As new material is posted on those sites, it’s automatically sent to your computer, where you can read it with your browser.
Company: Berkeley Systems
Product: After Dark Online
Headquarters: Berkeley, California
Web site: www.afterdark.com
A competitor of PointCast, this screen-saver veteran is getting into the Webcasting business with content providers like Sports Illustrated, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and ZD Net. Content includes news, sports, stocks, weather and entertainment.
Headquarters: Toronto, Canada
Web site: www.lanacom.com
HeadLiner fetches headlines from Web sites that you’ve designated, then scrolls them in a floating ticker-tape bar in the title bar of the active application on your desktop. Click on a headline to retrieve articles — sans images — from a long list of Web news sources that you’ve pre-selected.
Product: Starwave Direct
Headquarters: Bellevue, Washington
Web site: www.starwave.com
Few content providers have plunged headlong into the business of writing software code. But Starwave has always done things its own way. Starwave Direct will soon offer news from ABC News, along with financial, entertainment and sports news from the crown jewel of Starwave: ESPNET SportsZone, the most visited Web site in the world.
Related: When Push Comes to News