When Paul Morgan began evaluating push technology products last January, he had one top priority: anything but PointCast. Like many a corporate Webmaster, Morgan had experienced firsthand the pitfalls of the wildly popular screen-saver-cum-automatic-newsfeed, including high bandwidth consumption, interference with user productivity applications and the distraction of ads. There had to be a better way.
As Web site engineer for GTE Corp.’s Information Services Division, Morgan was looking for a way to push out project-management information to GTE’s staff in a real-time, noninvasive way. Project-management data is crucial for systems integrator GTE, which services government and private industry. Morgan wanted critical information such as a certain financial threshold being reached (for example, a project about to go over budget) or changes in project deliverables (such as a project about to go over deadline) in decision makers’ hands as soon as possible. Morgan also wanted the ability to have automatic desktop delivery of competitive information from external newsfeeds to marketing and analytic personnel.
“We wanted something a little more emphatic than E-mail,” said Morgan. “Call it E-mail on steroids.”
It made sense to distribute the information using one of the intriguing new push products on the division’s brand-new intranet, which was being rolled out to 700 users at the Chantilly, Va., site and to 350 off-site users. Although there were already a few hundred regular users of the PointCast Network at ISD, Morgan wanted to go elsewhere for push capabilities–with an eye toward eventually banning PointCast, or at least discouraging its use at the company.
Morgan, along with his boss, Irv Zacks, vice president and general manager of ISD, was looking for something that would avoid the downfalls of PointCast and be much more closely tailored to distribute business information. “We didn’t want extraneous or distracting information,” Morgan said.
PointCast’s use of advertisements were a particular bugaboo. “They distract users. And we didn’t want to dedicate corporate bandwidth to someone else’s message. It is simply desktop real estate that should be used for business applications,” Morgan added.
“The ad-based model sets the stage for conflict between a company’s interests and PointCast’s interests. That is why a lot of the [push] companies targeting the intranet space are using different revenue models,” said Ross Scott Rubin, group director of Consumer Internet Technologies for Jupiter Communications Inc., in New York. “PointCast is under a lot of pressure to offer a different version with a modified client that would allow companies to filter the ads or do away with them altogether.”
Examining the alternatives
Zacks gave Morgan the directive that whatever product they chose must have links to external news sources to get competitive information–with no ads. Then he stepped back and let Morgan play the field.
Morgan looked at BackWeb Technologies Inc.’s BackWeb, Intermind Corp.’s Intermind Communicator, Marimba Inc.’s Castanet and Wayfarer Communications Inc.’s Incisa. Morgan was intrigued by all these products, but he was most impressed with Incisa. An important point of differentiation was that the Wayfarer application appeared to be well-positioned to work with and augment both Netscape Communications Corp.’s Netcaster and Microsoft Corp.’s Active Desktop (both of which will contain push capabilities). Netcaster is due in the third quarter; delivery for Active Desktop has not yet been announced. Zacks wanted to be sure that GTE would not lose its “institutional investment” in implementing a push product only to have it supplanted by the Netscape and Microsoft offerings, he said.
“Wayfarer was adroit at playing both camps, and that was a major difference between the products,” Morgan said. And at $25,000 for a 1,000-seat license, Incisa did not break the bank. The decision was made: Wayfarer Incisa was the one.
During the evaluation period, Morgan also grudgingly evaluated–and even purchased–PointCast Inc.’s $995 I-server, which minimizes the amount of PointCast traffic entering the corporate firewall and also lets network administrators filter the types of content accessed by users. The I-server also can be used to broadcast business data over the intranet, but adding to a general anti-PointCast animus at the company, Morgan did not like the fact that there would only be one GTE ISD channel with all other channels controlled by PointCast. “Through gritted teeth, we bought the I-server to control the most outrageous [PointCast] use,” he said.
Not PointCast, InfoCast
Since the rollout began in March, 225 employees have been given access to Incisa, which GTE ISD has christened “InfoCast.” Users have the option of receiving information as a screensaver, a “headlink” (a headline with links to intranet stories) or a banner on the bottom of the screen. Morgan said his group recommends that users not elect the screensaver option because this will tie up the system for a few seconds before going back to the user application. This is one of Incisa’s few weaknesses, said Morgan, and it affects even systems running at 166MHz to 200MHz.
GTE ISD users report that it is not annoying or obtrusive to receive headlinks because the information occupies a small space on the screen, only about 2.5 by 3.5 inches. Incisa includes a Shockwave animation sequence to get users’ attention. But, so far, this has remained a relatively staid, corporate type of animation, rather than an eye-popping cartoon. “We’ve been fairly conservative so far with the animations” in keeping with the goal of not unduly distracting users, Morgan said.
Incisa pushes data from one of four sources: GTE ISD project-management databases; external news sources (such as Reuters, PR News Wire, Cnet and InfoSeek); “reporters” (individuals such as human resources managers who are empowered to push out news flashes); and “Web alerts” (a new capability through which users will receive only new material from selected Internet pages).
Morgan and his users are anxiously awaiting the addition of several extra news sources, which are due soon. Wayfarer has been somewhat slow to add an InfoSeek search capability through which users can input a search and automatically receive updated results sent every time the results of the query change. “We are anxious to see how they’re going to incorporate search capabilities,” Morgan said.
GTE network managers, for their part, are very happy with the minimal effect Incisa has on the network. “It is very gentle on network bandwidth. The notifications are quite small [a few kilobytes], even with the Shockwave animations,” said Morgan.
Now at issue: the decision of whether or not to formally forbid PointCast. Morgan and Zacks are evaluating this issue and will come to a decision by the end of the month. “We’ll either come to a complete ban, or it will be culturally frowned upon,” Morgan said.
Morgan is hoping the additional news feeds Wayfarer will be adding will be enough to satisfy users’ “CNN need,” he said. He isn’t too optimistic about eradicating users’ human thirst for nonbusiness information, however. Said Morgan, “There may be a residual batch of people who need to know about those bus turnovers in Peru.”