Column: Klips

Loose Wire: When Push Comes to Shove

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 25 April 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

I think I can safely say it, though others have been saying it for years: Push is dead. In which case I’d like to be the first to say: Long live push.

For those of you who weren’t following closely, push was much hyped in the mid-1990s when computers were first being hooked up to the Internet in a big way. The idea was simple enough: instead of users going to Web sites to get information — pull — the information could be sent — pushed — to the user. You could then sit back and watch it all — cricket scores, share prices, headlines — scroll across your screen. For the corporate world it was an opportunity to also push ads, special offers and branding.

So what went wrong? First out of the starting gate, PointCast earned lasting opprobrium because its software hogged computer and Internet resources. PointCast retired hurt, and was eventually bought by EntryPoint in 1999, which a year later merged with Internet Financial Network Inc. to form InfoGate. This stopped offering its free ticker in mid-April, and now can only be found in the technology behind the subscription-based USA Today NewsTracker ($40 a year from newstracker.usatoday.com), which somewhat fittingly looks like the PointCast of old.

Actually, it’s not push that is dead. It’s the gravity-defying business models and catch-all products that don’t offer anything other people can’t offer for free. InfoGate fell by the wayside because it didn’t make any money. USA Today’s NewsTracker won’t, in my view, attract users because you can get the same thing free elsewhere — try the BBC’s excellent Newsline ticker (www.bbc.co.uk/newsline).

Why then has yet another scrolling-ticker business thrown open its doors to the public in the same week as InfoGate closed them? Enter KlipFolio from Serence, a small Windows program that at first blush is not much different. The scrolling is familiar; the clicking on a headline to see the full story is the same. The only visible change is that each Klip contains information from one source only, so instead of one big scrolling ticker with everything in it, from CNN to your local rag, Klips are small and independent.

Below stairs, it’s very different: a content-service provider (what you and I would call a Web site, whether it’s a magazine, news service, an auction site or whatever) adds some lines of Klip computer code so that every time they add some data to their Web site (a news story, an updated stock price, a new item for sale) that data is added to the Klip’s scrolling headlines.

Users, meanwhile, select which Klips they want to view on their screen, which will then update in real time with the new story, price or item for sale. Simple. Serence operates merely as the provider of technology to the content-service providers. For the user, the Klip software is free (www.Klipfolio.com), though Serence says some providers may charge for content in the future.

So what’s so different about this? Well, first off the software looks and works beautifully. Secondly, the back end is simple enough for content-service providers to be able to incorporate it without any extra computers, technicians or PhDs. This means that Serence is just an intermediary; it just provides a site where users can find what sources are available, and it licenses the software to the providers.

Where I believe Klips might really take off, however, is in delivering more specialized content. Sure, we can monitor Web sites, get stuff by e-mail, even have stock prices sent to our mobile phone, but imagine having a Klip that monitors, say, the prices of fast-moving items on an on-line auction site, or jobs in a particular industry.

What’s more, Serence has priced the product so that even individuals who produce specialist newsletters can jump aboard for about $100 a month. Indeed, as Blogs — Web sites that collate niche news and analysis — become more organized, Klips may emerge as a great way for individuals to provide a valuable real-time service which grateful users may pay for.

If that happens, it may well mark the coming of age of push: an information-delivery service that gives me stuff I need, doesn’t take up space and doesn’t go out of business.

21. April 2002 by jeremy
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