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push technology (Webcasting)

Contributor(s): Mona Cummins and Kevin Edwards

Also see Webcasting, another usage. In both usages, netcasting is a synonym.

Push technology (Webcasting) is the prearranged updating of news, weather, or other selected information on a computer user's desktop interface through periodic and generally unobtrusive transmission over the World Wide Web (including the use of the Web protocol on intranet). Webcasting is a feature of the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser and Netscape's Netcaster, part of its Communicator suite. Webcasting is also available through separate applications such as Pointcast and Backweb that run on current browsers.

Webcasting uses so-called push technology in which the Web server ostensibly "pushes" information to the user rather than waiting until the user specifically requests it. (In actuality, most of the push is triggered by user or administrator preselection and arrives only as the result of client requests.) In addition to changing the Web for the home user, new Webcasting products offer corporations an organized way to manage information for their intranet users.

Because some products and services seem aimed primarily at the corporate market and others for the home user, we describe how Webcasting works first for the home user and then for a company's intranet.

Webcasting (Home User)

Briefly, here's how it works:

  1. You download one of the new Netscape or MSIE browsers or one of the Webcasting applications such as Pointcast or Backweb. Now you have software in your computer that can unobtrusively request and get information updates in the periods when you're not using your live Internet connection (you won't be aware of it).
  2. The new browser or Webcasting software will ask you what "channels" or information categories and specific Web sites you want to be able to have brought to you. Typically, you fill out a brief profile and select from menus.
  3. The user interface varies considerably, depending on the browser or application you have downloaded and installed. A typical interface is a scrolling tickertape on some part of your display screen that you can turn on or off. The tickertape displays news headlines, stock quotes, or other information. Pointcast provides a screensaver that brings you an array of news, weather, and other information as soon as you turn your computer on. Backweb's Headliner lets you select either a tickertape or a screensaver and change at any time. Both Internet Explorer and Netscape's Netcaster take an even more radical approach and provide a new interface in which information objects or sources are viewed along with word processing and other applications as though everything was part of your virtual desktop.
  4. As you use your computer, the Webcasting software uses a portion of your Internet connection to request updates from the "channels" (Web sites) you have selected. As the updates arrive, they are either stored for you to view the first time you click on a "channel" or, if a channel is already active, the information is presented to you right away and continually as long as you are using your computer.

Webcasting (Intranet)

Briefly, here's how it works:

  1. An enterprise's intranet manager installs one of several Webcasting products available (see Table below) on a central Web server. Depending on the product, a range of provided program "channels" may be available to provide the intranet users with international, national, and perhaps local news or news headlines and possibly other services. The intranet manager decides which "channels" to preselect for intranet users and which channels (or whether there will be any) available for the user to choose.
  2. The channels that "come with" the product or represent existing sites on the Web may either be icons or graphical links to a Web site or may be summary services such as news tickers and stock quotes that furnish information whether or not the user elects to click to the source Web site.
  3. The intranet manager can develop new channels to put on the server that will "push" corporate news, industry or trade news, and news about competitors to selected users in the company.
  4. Some of the products will allow the intranet manager to gather statistics on how often each channel is being used.
  5. The user of the intranet will view the default set of channels planned and provided by the intranet manager. The intranet will thus become a much more visible part of the user's computer desktop. In some cases, the user may be able to modify the user interface and turn the Webcast channels off (for example, turn off a screensaver background or a scrolling headline ticker) just as a home user can.

Webcasting assumes that individually and as corporations, we want our Web to be less chaotic with information sources pre-selected and organized. Users can still get to the entire Web on their own as usual (at least we think in most companies). However, Webcasters believe you often won't need to if the information is brought to you first. The use of the term "channel" by the Webcasting providers underscores their belief that users will prefer fewer choices and more order. Some of the Webcast software allows users to add their own Web site selections as channels.

Pointcast includes advertising as part of its content. The browsers and other Webcasters do not include advertising unless you click to the source site from a headline. Pointcast's screensaver approach requires about 10 megabytes of your hard disk. With one or two exceptions, the Webcasting software is free for downloading.

A Brief Comparison of Webcasting Products

The following table summarizes the leading products, their content, presentation technique, and where to download them. (Note: Since these products are constantly changing, we recommend checking their Web sites for more up-to-date information.)


Product Interface Content Download from
BackWeb 35 channels including news and stock quotes; developer's kit lets an intranet create their own channels Flash, screensaver, popup window, scrolling ticker, wallpaper, and launch from client
Castanet Hundreds of channels; encourages channel development by Web sites, promising many more Separate application or an application launched from your Web browser
Headliner Hundreds of channels to choose from; will merge with BackWeb soon Scrolling ticker, screensaver, or newstitle; can easily switch or turn off
Intermind Up to 130 external Web or intranet channels can be installed A helper application (separate window) from the browser
Microsoft Internet Explorer Many preselected channels and more coming Part of your desktop; scrollling ticker
Netscape Netcaster Many preselected channels and more coming Part of your desktop; menu on the desktop
Pointcast Includes CNN and similar channels and about 50 affiliated content providers Screensaver with a number of running channels; includes advertising; impressive but hard to turn off

Selected Links

  • Links to products cited in the PC World source article cited below will tell you where to download Pointcast and Backweb.
This was last updated in September 2005

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