when it's free,
getting your news on-line has its limitations, and it's definitely
not like picking up a newspaper and reading it
by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #350 July 9, 1996 High Tech Office column
newspaper or magazine publisher in this age of instant Internet
They know that electronic, digital information is the way of the future
and they see their competitors putting their publications onto the
Net, but it's still not clear how any of them are going to turn it
into a profit-making business.
media giant Time-Warner. It's currently investing about $40
in its Pathfinder Internet site, a huge, rambling collection of content
(currently under reorganization) that includes, among other things,
the full text of each new edition of Time magazine, posted
late each Monday--probably before it reaches the readers of the printed
viewing it that
way, and usually check it out on Tuesday mornings. I can scan the
table of contents, click to the articles I'm interested in and save
them onto my hard drive so that I can read them later, off-line, at
my leisure. There are ads on the opening pages, but if you turn off
images in your Web browser, you not only get your pages faster, you
minimize the impact of the ads. In fact, Pathfinder helpfully provides
a text-only home page, where the ads fade into minimal one-liners
(http://pathfinder.com/time/home.text.html). Effectively, free Time
on the Net is competing with pay-per-copy Time in print. What's
a publisher to do?
still have to
make that little bit of an effort to find my way to Time each
week, and I have to scan the contents page and decide what interests
me. Make that past tense: new software automates both of these
for example, is the PointCast Network (www.pointcast.com). There,
you can download software that will let you create your own,
news service. It works best with systems with a networked, high-speed
Net connection; that way, it can get the news you want quickly, in
the background, more or less continuously. (PointCast is a spinoff
of software company Adobe, and is promising to support
and Unix as well as the Windows versions.)
lets you set
it to track up to 25 stocks (prices are delayed by 20 minutes from
the trading floor), the weather, sports of your choice, news from
40 different industries, and even your horoscope. Information comes
from credible sources like Reuters and Standard & Poor's
Comstock. It can be set to deliver headlines to your screen when it
notices that your computer is idle.
same time, when
it detects you're not busy, it also delivers ads, customized to your
preferences. These ads, of course, are how PointCast is financing
its network--by promising its advertisers a finely targeted audience.
Click on a
(or an ad) to get more information, via the ChannelViewer browser.
You can't copy information from here or save it to a file, as you
can in standard Web browsers, but PointCast claims it's going to rework
its system to plug into the Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet
Explorer browser standards. Other competition is in the works.
is offering Pathfinder Personal, Dow-Jones is promising the Wall
Street Journal Interactive. Even IBM is getting into the
act with InfoSage. All three promise customized, automated news and
information, but all have a subscription rate. Subscription-based
Internet services have, however, failed to get enough users in the
past: if I have to pay, I might as well get a newspaper
or magazine that I can read on the bus.
FreeLoader (www.freeloader.net) will automatically update information
from selected Web sites in the background, along with a service that
will point you to sites with information in your areas of interest.
Like PointCast, the service and software are free.
is free (if
you don't mind the ads), it's customizable, and it's within 20 minutes
of being up-to-date. What's the downside?
won't get Business in Vancouver there; it's tailored to big,
mostly U.S. news sources. As well, you lose the serendipity factor.
When you get a newspaper like this one, you're getting information on
more than your immediate, well-defined interests. Perhaps you're not
a regular reader of, for instance, this column (hard as that is for
me to imagine!). In flipping the pages, however, the headline grabs
your attention and you scan the column, finding out about something
you didn't know you were interested in.
or Freeloader, tailored to what we think are our wants, don't give
us the opportunity to be grabbed in that way--and that's a big loss.
Don't be too quick to count print out!