Push technology / Beeb.com
There comes a time in a technophile's life when they stop playing with the controls and start watching the content. The moment has almost come for this technophile too - brought about by a series of buttons which landed on the computer screen the other day. Called channels, the buttons beckon to come see what the BBC, ITN, Sky TV, The Financial Times - amongst others are offering over the Internet. A press dials the Internet provider and delivers a front page screen as ever - but not only can you feast on what you need now, you can subscribe to the channel and choose how you want your news delivered in future.
The channel button feature arrived with the latest releases - the version 'fours', of Web browsers such as Netscape's Communicator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. When you have found a useful information channel, for example in Microsoft's offering, you can get it to fire back an e-mail whenever there is new material available. You can also set up a schedule for how often you want the updated material - more buttons will set the subscription to give monthly, weekly, hourly deliveries or the channel can be allowed to decide for you. Those with dial-up Internet connections can get their machines to connect automatically, load up with news and then disconnect. Those with a more permanent Internet connection can keep their machines replete with as much fresh content as they can take.
This approach to surfing the Web is what they been calling Internet 'push' over the last year and it is a feature of computers in the shops now. As it turns out, in the current episode of 'the push story', the surprise twist is that this version of push is not actually push after all. Push was meant to mean that the Web site broadcasts new information whenever it has some. Instead, it transpires that 'push' is really 'pull' dressed up as 'managed pull'. In this the Web site helps you to identify what is new material, and your machine collects it at the frequency you specify in the schedule. Confused? You won't be, because in practice it is all pretty transparent.
As has been said and seen, the television companies are in the among the content providers. While budget watchers within will have seen millions being allocated to providing online services, there is a reassuring statistic that the content watchers might not be shifting their gaze from television to the Web. BBC Online's Edward Briffa recently reported that the number of requests to their Web server peaks at precisely 1pm. Spelling it out, here is a 'new' audience. It's interesting for advertisers too as this audience might be comfortable with technology and it's penchant for growing buttons.
The confidence of those moving the budgets on to the Web is based on very good sense. Firstly, the Web is a place for advertising revenue. Secondly TV channels and national papers are among our core brands - they are trusted and well visited. This kind of thinking might have led to the BBC and computer giant ICL to set up their very special 'beeb @ the BBC' - an Internet service unconstrained by the BBC's mandate. Established without the BBC's publicly sourced funds, beeb is a commercial service that is one of the brightest spots on the Internet. For TV viewers, its relevance is bang-on, offering 'webzines' around popular shows like Top Gear, Shooting Stars and Men Behaving Badly. A webzine called 'The Score' not only gives sports news and results, it feeds fresh scores into a scoreboard on fans' desktops. Interactive elements include games, quizzes, and e-mail postcards while web-style added value comes from voting on who should be team manager, and from chat between fans or the stars themselves. At around the time of its consumer launch last September, other services such as an online shop, travel and film guides were steadily being added. Best of all, for those with too many screens to watch, soon will come the holy grail of TV listings - an all channel TV diary based on viewing preferences. Like much of the Internet, beeb is mostly free. Unlike much at the BBC it will be funded by advertisers, who gain an unusual opportunity of associating with BBC programme material. I have to concede it's an idea more impressive than any button to land on the screen.