Applications: reducing browsing time by automatically supplying customised information. Best for industry news, stock prices, weather and sport. It is also possible to add your own news feed, so you can use them for communicating with staff or customers
One of the problems with the Internet is that it still takes a considerable amount of effort to find the right sites and get the information you want. There must be a better way than all that clicking and typing.
Now maybe there is. Pointcast and News Ticker are examples of a wave of new products designed to automate the process. Called intelligent browsers by some, personal broadcast networks by others, they are already being hailed as the latest killer application.
Perhaps the most ambitious is Pointcast, or as it is sometimes called, the Pointcast Network. But let?s start by looking at News Ticker, which is simpler.
My Yahoo News Ticker
News Ticker is so-named because it puts a small ticker-tape-like display on your screen. Snippets of information ? news headlines, sports scores, stock prices ? continually scroll across the ticker window.
It is fairly unobtrusive so you can leave it running while you get on with other jobs. If anything catches your eye you click the ticker to bring up more information in a bigger window.
You need two components to make all this work: client software to run on users? machines; and access to the associated Web site, a collaboration between Net Controls and Yahoo.
The software is easy to install under Windows and is up and running straight away. But to make these products genuinely useful you need to customise them to your own requirements. Again, this is easy ? clicking on a button takes you to the associated My Yahoo site where you can choose from the information available. Your preferences are automatically stored.
You can control the appearance of News Ticker on the screen ? the size and scrolling speed of the text, and the position of the ticker window. Both News Ticker and Pointcast work efficiently alongside a full-blown browser. This means you don?t have to close them down if you want to use Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer. You can even use News Ticker itself as a search engine for these browsers.
The main limitation of News Ticker is in the range of content available. Although Yahoo has clinched deals with major information providers such as Reuters, much of the content is American-oriented. Sports coverage isn?t bad, with cricket, soccer and rugby all well supported, as well as useful analysis of UK and European weather. But the stock prices are from Wall Street not London, and the news from Reuters has a distinct American slant.
It?s early days yet for this software category, and News Ticker is a long way short of a full substitute for a conventional browser. However, it is already a useful supplement to one.
The same is also true of News Ticker?s rivals, which include Web Sprite and After Dark Online, as well as Pointcast. Pointcast seems to have the strongest alliances with content vendors, and this may turn out to be a decisive advantage.
Pointcast works in a similar way to News Ticker, with client software on the users? machines linking to a dedicated Web site. However, Pointcast takes up much more of the screen area. You can run it as a main application, or set it up to work like a screensaver which starts up automatically after a specified period of inactivity, and disappears when you hit the keyboard.
Pointcast is similar in feel to a TV, with the information arranged in nine channels, including weather, sport, CNN and CNN Financial Network. Clicking on a channel button brings up the appropriate stories and pictures.
Pointcast offers a broader choice of information than News Ticker, with services such as Reuters, stock prices and charts from Standard & Poors, as well as online versions of Wired and Pointcast?s own Internet magazine. However, Pointcast has an even more American flavour than News Ticker, although this should change as more content providers come on stream.
Pointcast is more graphical than News Ticker, so is more compelling but also difficult to ignore. The advertisements are more obtrusive, although it is the ads that make them free to the user.
Both Pointcast and News Ticker work best if you are connected to the Internet through a network gateway, rather than a dial-up modem. This is because they need to periodically access the Internet to get the latest information.
Most company networks link to the Internet via a high-grade connection, such as a leased line. This is ideal as it offers continuous connection, high speed and a flat-rate charging, irrespective of traffic. Pointcast and News Ticker are compatible with firewall security software ? to the firewall they are no different to any other browser.
The performance of the PC or network does not seem to be affected when either Pointcast or News Ticker is running. Nonetheless, you should not ignore the performance implications for your site because these systems can change people?s Internet behaviour: if you go from a few enthusiasts wielding browsers to the whole office using Pointcast or News Ticker there may be a considerable increase in traffic.
The importance of these new intelligent browsing products is significant. Few people in most organisations know how to use conventional browsers and search engines effectively. As a result, they waste time and often fail to find the information they are really after.
It makes much more sense to give users something such as Pointcast or News Ticker. Once they are set up to fetch the relevant data, these new products are as easy to use as a TV.
We are witnessing another important paradigm shift in the Internet world. It is possible that most users will switch to using a simpler, TV-like interface to the Internet. Pre-selected information can be spoon-fed to them from dedicated Web sites. Meanwhile, conventional browsers will develop into power tools for the minority of information specialists.
Verdict: News Ticker and Pointcast are easy to use, free and effective. Instead of hunting down information yourself, they automatically deliver it to your screen. Both systems have their limitations, particularly in the range of information available, but if they cut browsing time at all, they have succeeded in improving productivity.
Of the two, we prefer News Ticker?s interface because it is less obtrusive on the desktop. However, we suspect that Pointcast will be more successful in signing up content providers. Ultimately, it is the quality and range of the information available that will determine the usefulness of these browsers.
There?s no doubt that the Pointcast and News Ticker approach poses a threat to the traditional browser. Both Microsoft and Netscape clearly recognise this, and are developing or acquiring the technology themselves.
But rather than wait, any company with a significant number of Internet users should certainly check out both News Ticker and Pointcast now, as they already have the potential to deliver useful benefits.
Contact: http://my.yahoo.com/ticker.html for News Ticker; www.pointcast.com for Pointcast
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