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Mixing Information and Advertising on Subscription Channels

When Push Comes to Shove:

Mixing Information and Advertising on Subscription Channels
a Strange Proposition

by Kevin Bramlett

With the release of Netscape Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0, the topic of Push Technology, or Channels, has suddenly gained a lot of attention. Many Internet Businesspeople are wondering if Push Technology is something they should consider, or if it is one of the many Internet topics with a lot of pop and flash, and little real value in terms of increasing traffic or website revenues.

To begin with, let's discuss what Push Technology is, and what it isn't. The developers of the new browsers have teamed with a diverse collection of companies to provide specialized content which is delivered via the browser when the user 'subscribes' to a Channel. Subscribing is merely a way for the user to place a 'standing request' for information from a content provider. Consider that it is not too different from requesting a web page - but instead of making a single request, you are making a more or less permanent request for new content to be delivered ongoing.

From the point of view of the content provider, a decision to Push means he or she must be committed to providing fresh content on an ongoing (usually daily) basis. A static website is not one that would necessarily or successfully offer a subscription channel. But sites that constantly develop new information, or have a suitably large repository of content to offer, are candidates for channel-casting. Examples include websites that offer stock market data (a constant stream of new information) and companies like Disney, which not only constantly develop new content, but also already have a repository of content to share the likes of which few companies in the world can match.

Push Technology is not something which is brand new, or revolutionary in nature. The essential concept of 'Push Technology', that users locate and subscribe to a 'channel' of information which appears on their desktop without any further action on their part, is certainly not new. Consider that subscription listservers and e-mail newsletters like this one have been around for over ten years, long before the development of the graphical presentation of the World Wide Web made the Internet the hottest destination in the world. What's different about Push Technology today is the kind of information being delivered - graphics, sound, video, and streaming information of various sorts.

Push is a logical extension in many ways of the growth of the Web as the primary vehicle for delivery of information via the Net. Just as browsers have grown to encompass most FTP, Gopher, and Telnet functions, Push Channels are an attempt by browsers to replace traditional subscription models such as listservers, e-mail subscription lists, and even traditional offline channels such as television.

But a great debate is raging over the value of Push Technology. Many opponents argue that the essential truth and value of the Internet is that users can select and pull to themselves the information which they desire to receive, and that channel subscription amounts to turning the web into a television channel, with all the implications for loss of control that implies.

Proponents argue that a great deal of valuable information can be provided on an ongoing basis, without the need for the user to constantly issue new requests for updated content. In the case of stock price data, for instance, there is a clear and compelling case that users need a constantly updated stream of this information. The need for many of the other channels' content is not so clear - unless you happen to be an aficionado of that particular topic. Then you create your own demand for the information. And that is what many channel providers are counting on.

Like any new technology, there are some problems. Chief among them is that the bandwidth issues of the Web are compounded by the interactive and feature-rich content of Channels. Like many Web Watchers, I have experimented with various Channel subscriptions, looking for value. However, lengthy delays and technical glitches have taxed my patience to such a degree that I am no longer willing to continue to subscribe (at least in their current incarnations). No doubt as technology solutions continue to push the envelope of bandwidth availability, this major issue will be solved, or at least mitigated.

Another complaint is that the developers of content are supporting their work financially by selling advertising (or using the Channel to deliver advertising for their own products and services). The result is that Channel content is often clouded by commercial messages. Now, I am a supporter of commerce in general, and Internet Commerce in particular, but even I dislike trying to read information content while enduring constant commercial interruptions.

The beauty of the Internet is that by providing people with valuable and useful content, you create the goodwill and sales opportunity that in the offline world you typically secure via straightforward advertising, in other words, where image, not information, is the perceived value. I personally find the mixing in of traditional advertising with Internet content to be disturbing and counterproductive.

An example of this problem is Pointcast Network. This Channel provider, one of the earliest channel broadcasters, provides a wealth of news, stock data, sports and popular culture information. However, to support their service, they sell animated advertising banners that compete directly and constantly with the channel screen. It turns out that it is very difficult to read a static news story when dancing, multi-colored sprites are appearing and disappearing in close proximity to the story! After several headache inducing attempts to use this service, I regretfully had to unsubscribe. The advertising was taking precedence over the content - and on the Internet, this is a definite violation of the basic premise.

Push Technology has great potential to deliver high quality real-time content to users across a wide spectrum of interests. The trick will be to make this model of information delivery self-supporting without subverting the value of the content through obtrusive advertising. I have confidence that this delivery concept will be self-correcting: simply put, a lack of subscribers will dictate necessary revision to the model until such time as it evolves into something more useful, or dies out entirely.

For now, if you are contemplating offering Channel content, consider whether you can support it without blurring your message with extensive advertising. If not, you might want to hold off until the technology matures. On the flip side, if you are considering advertising on someone else's channel, examine carefully how the Channel provider is displaying the advertising. Ask yourself whether you will be creating more ill will than good, considering the attitudes of Internet Citizens. Don't discount the model out of hand, but evaluate it thoroughly before committing full resources.

Article by Kevin Bramlett. Find out how you can get a FREE Internet Business Video by visiting http://www.WorldWideGuide.com.

Tags: E-commerce and Internet



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