Do you find that you spend more time searching for information on the Web than actually using it? Repeatedly searching the Web for information on a particular topic can be both time-consuming and frustrating. But a set of technologies collectively referred to as "push" technology (also called Webcasting) may help by delivering or pushing information directly to your desktop.
How does push technology work?
Configuring your PC to receive pushed information is relatively easy, often requiring you to simply download and install the push vendor's software from a Web site such as BackWeb's Polite Agent or Marimba Inc.'s Castanet. Some vendors even push their services without requiring anything on the user's end but a Web browser and an Internet connection. Users fill out a profile specifying what types of information they want. The profile acts as a filter and is stored either on the client's machine (client-based filter) or on the push vendor's server (server-based filter).
Based on the user's profile, the vendor's server searches across a variety of Web sites or its own channel-a collection of Web-based content that it has rights to distribute. The filter then retrieves relevant information and sends it to the user's desktop.
What's the best use for push technology?Although the technical snags associated with push are significant (network overload and decreased performance on the client side), many users find the information they receive is not as well-filtered as they had hoped. Information profiles are essentially search queries that find information within channels and other sources. They are rigidly defined and usually search by key words.
The profiles work well for simple queries such as weather forecasts or stock quotes, but they can work poorly for more complex queries in which the user is trying to define and search a broader concept, such as employee retention.
Using it for the latter tends to result in large quantities of information that must still be reevaluated and digested by the user to determine its true relevance.
How can push contribute to the workplace?The adoption of push technology has been most successful in environments where pushed information is not tied to rigid information profiles but instead used as a mechanism to deliver information en masse over the corporate intranet.
Companies are currently using push to issue information to employees, such as automatic updating of business manuals, parts inventories and policies. When tied to databases and spreadsheets, the technology can automatically notify managers when trends in sales and services change. Such practical business applications may eventually be the real impetus for a wider acceptance of push technology in the marketplace.
Traditional model of Web-based information where the client browser requests a page before it gets sent.
Ratings are attached to files identifying the type of content within, and filters can prevent material with certain content ratings from being accessed.
Organisations can use similar mechanisms to ensure pushed material meets certain guidelines.
Sending a message from one point to many selected points in a network at the same time as opposed to sending to one user or to every user in the network.
(Kim Guenther is a freelance writer in Crozet, Virginia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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