May 24, 1999
Push: The rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated
The first internet "push" era came to a symbolic end earlier this month when push pioneer PointCast was acquired by idealab, an incubator of such successful start-ups as eToys and FreePC. It's a strange outcome for a failing company: Instead of being cast upon the scrap heap of history, PointCast is returning to the womb, perhaps to be reborn in a more commerce-enabled form.
PointCast's demise received scant notice in the press because push technology has long been passé. The common wisdom is that push failed because people prefer to browse Web pages at their own convenience instead of having information delivered to them.
But I come to praise push, not to bury it.
In fact, push is more alive than ever -- it's just that content is being pushed through tried-and-true e-mail technologies, as it has been for years. It was not the idea of push that was unpopular, but the relatively untested and proprietary "push technology" offered by PointCast, Microsoft, and Netscape.
E-mail lists are proliferating wildly, and they're pushing content of all kinds right to users' desktops -- but only when those users subscribe to the lists, of course.
I've even got an e-mail list of my own -- a weekly newsletter on Internet business called the Tweney Report, which I've been publishing for the past year. InfoWorld soon will be adding this newsletter to the crop of e-mail "push" content available at www.infoworld.com. In the meantime, you can read the Tweney Report on my own Web site, at www.tweney.com.
In the course of publishing this newsletter, I've discovered how time-consuming manual list management can be. That's why I'm moving my newsletter to an e-mail list hosting service.
Fortunately, at least three such services have sprouted up in recent months.
OneList, at www.onelist.com, provides hosting and management of discussion and announcement (newsletter) lists, and includes a shared file area for each list. I found its tools easy to use and fairly flexible.
Another choice is eGroups, at www.egroups.com. In addition to list management, this service offers a host of community features, such as shared calendars and file spaces, real-time chat, and even the ability to create a shared online database for your group's use. Its complex list management interface is a bit confusing, however, and its features are overkill for my newsletter.
Topica, at www.topica.com, offers free management of newsletter-type lists, as well as discussion lists. It is easy to use, and Topica's customer-service people are very helpful. Thanks to its acquisition of the Lizst directory, Topica is also an index of many mailing lists, not just those it hosts. In time, this could make Topica into the Yahoo of e-mail lists.
All three of these services are free and advertising-supported: They tack short advertisements onto the bottom of any messages they deliver on your behalf. OneList and eGroups offer ad-free messages in exchange for a $5 monthly fee.
Although Topica offers no ad-free option, the message it adds is just a single line advertising Topica's own site -- thus shorter and more discreet than the OneList and eGroups advertisements. That led me to choose Topica as the service provider for my newsletter. So now you can subscribe to the Tweney Report simply by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do you use e-mail lists? Push your thoughts to me at email@example.com.
Dylan Tweney is the content development manager for InfoWorld Electric. He has been writing about the Internet since 1993.
Previous columns by Dylan Tweney
Distance learning is no substitute for real-world education
May 17, 1999
Internetworkers need `synchronets' to help them work and travel
May 10, 1999
How to succeed in I-commerce without breaking the bank
May 3, 1999
Online music David has industry Goliaths quaking in their boots
April 26, 1999
Every column since August, 1997