For some time experts have been predicting an Internet backlash ? a reaction against the almost unbroken stream of hyperbole that has accompanied the Internet since it entered the public domain a few years ago. But the real Internet counterblast is happening not among users but among the producers, who have cunningly adopted as their instrument the media darling of the moment: push technologies.
The push idea is seductive. Instead of spending hours wandering along hyperlinks to successive Web pages to find what you are looking for in the huge library without a catalogue that is the Internet ? the old pull model ? it is delivered straight to your desktop. All you need to do is subscribe to a push channel, so this argument goes, and the tasty bytes will be fed directly across the Internet to your screen.
The first company to promote this idea was Pointcast. When you have downloaded its software you can choose to receive constant updates to various channels ? news, weather, share information and so on. But there is a price ? your attention. These channels feature advertisements from sponsors.
Others have been quick to embrace this model. They include companies like Ifusion with its Arrive service, Back Web and Intermind. However, in an attempt to differentiate themselves, most have felt the need to go one better.
Arrive uses complex multimedia displays for its channels. This is fine, except that it means you must download multi-megabyte files first. Similarly, some of Back Web?s channels have chosen spectacular ways of making on-screen announcements, including colourful animations that shoot uncontrollably around your screen.
But these channels are by nature obtrusive. This is partly because they need you to notice the advertisements and it is important to stand out from competing channels. But mainly because the fundamental model they use is television, which is affirmed on the idea that you must be bombarded with pyrotechnic displays to keep you amused ? and passive.
Push technology, far from being the latest and greatest incarnation of the Internet, is its antithesis. It wrests control from you, the user, relegating you to the position of passive spectator.
But the revolutionary power of the Internet is that you are in control; you choose which hyperlinks to follow. Push technologies, so seductive in their easy appeal, are a major threat to that power and control.
This is precisely why traditional information providers, such as TV companies and publishers, are using online push technologies so fervently. It perverts the Internet model into something they are familiar with, and which places the initiative firmly back in their hands.
Basically, companies that have for so long dictated what we should read, hear and see are terrified by the implicit threat of the Internet, by the reversal of roles it offers: push technology is their chance to tame this dangerous medium.
There is certainly a place for incremental updates delivered over the Internet, using Marimba?s Castanet technology, for example. But when it comes to the passive acceptance of the new online TV, users should resist these pushers of digital narcotics.
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