Push technology: 'must-have' or 'ho-hum?'

Nancie Mack (Editor: Rachel Chertkoff)

Even if you don’t use electronic mail (e-mail), chances are you’ve heard of it. E-mail is probably the oldest and most widely used 'push' technology, a loosely defined category of software that automatically delivers pre-selected World Wide Web (Web) content, rather than requiring the user to search for, or ‘pull,’ information each time it's needed. Newer ‘push’ applications and their anticipated personal and professional advantages were all the rage in early 1996 -- they would be used for updating and disseminating information on the corporate intranet, more effective marketing, and delivering selected information automatically to personal computers (PCs). Whether Internet users really need or want 'push' on their home PCs remains to be seen, but regardless of personal preference, users will likely be on the receiving end of one form or another of this maturing application as its popularity increases among businesses.


Also known as webcasting, 'push' technologies allow users to subscribe to a channel (stream of information) to designate desired information and how often an updated version of it should appear on their desktop. A user could choose to have her local weather report displayed in the morning and the evening, and have her favorite stock quotes appear every hour (unless her 'smart' push technology knew to update only when the quotes changed). Information can appear in a variety of formats – full-screen, ticker tape, screen saver -- anywhere on the desktop.

Numerous webcasting products already existed to filter, manage and deliver Internet content straight to the desktop, but Microsoft and Netscape raised the stakes in the 'push' game when they decided to incorporate the technology into their new Web browsers in the summer of 1997. As of early 1998, there is no standardized browser interface so most 'push' vendors have aligned with Microsoft or Netscape, or can accommodate both (Morris 1997) since they likely won’t survive on their own.


Approximately thirty companies are competing in the 'push' arena, but the consensus is that only about five will survive (Dignan 1997). The new Microsoft and Netscape browsers will deliver 'push' to tens of millions of desktop PCs, but businesses -- rather than individual consumers -- will likely provide the most lucrative markets as corporate America seeks to leverage its investments in intranets. A growing number of organizations have utilized ‘push’ technologies to expand sales, augment marketing and fine-tune internal processes.

'Push' technology is predicted to dramatically change marketing practices over the next five years as industries experience a shift from mass advertising to database or interactive marketing, according to the research firm Gartner Group. For the marketer, this will translate into increased costs for creating, maintaining and mining customer-centric marketing databases; for the customer, it will mean the ability to control when, where and how to deal with a firm (Nichols 1997).

Driven by the belief that Internet users dislike Web surfing and will therefore embrace the selective capabilities offered by 'push' technologies, the research firm Yankee Group predicts desktop delivery will account for one-third of the Web’s total economy by the year 2000. The optimistic firm predicted in early 1998 that 'push'-related revenues would soar from $10 million in 1996 to $5.7 billion in 2000. Internet advertising revenues have been disappointing, however, and other analysts believe that ‘push’ software distribution and upgrade applications will account for the largest piece of the pie, although they don't disagree with the forecasted size of it (Elgin 1997).

Proponents believe that 'push' will be the future's primary mode for presenting online information and entertainment (Silverman 1997). Additional benefits could include the advancement of other technologies (e.g., the use of agents), increased advertising revenues, and added convenience for information seekers. But the flip side of these anticipated advantages could be servers overrun with requests, unwanted advertisements, and information with no real connection to a user's interests (McGarvey 1997). For the time being, professional applications appear to offer the neatest fit. An increasing number of organizations are realizing the corporate advantage of full-time user connections, which allow effective utilization of channels to 'push' market information or client reports over the intranet (Gilster 1997).

Public ardor is hardly guaranteed, and will likely depend on how individuals choose to obtain and organize information via their PCs. A survey administered to the PC World Online Advisory Council revealed that 50.2 per cent of the respondents did not believe that 'push' technology was beneficial, and more than 40 per cent do not subscribe to a 'push' service (Heltzel 1997). The memory and bandwidth capacities of home PCs also contribute to the less than meteoric rise in private ‘push’ usage. According to Computer Intelligence, 82 per cent of PCs in American homes run at 14.4 kilobits or less per second and have eight megabytes or less of random access memory, which would be strained by multimedia-rich content (Aragon 1997). Modem-bound users would have to be online to download links and other related information (Gilster 1997), and may not be satisfied with offline ‘push’ capabilities.


After the ‘push’ hype began in early 1996, there was an explosion of vendors, many of whom have since sold out, merged or ceased operations (Dignan 1997). Although the initial enthusiasm has subsided, the popularity and vigorous participation of Microsoft and Netscape virtually ensure the presence of 'push' in one form or another for everyone living and/or working with computers.

Although the presence of ‘push’ technologies is being more immediately felt within the business world, it will likely continue to ease its way into our private lives. The involvement of Netscape and Microsoft is a giant step in that direction, and users will presumably adopt and adapt to it as they try to maximize their access, control, and organization of the enormous amounts of information available on the Web. In an ideal world, we’ll become not only more efficient and productive workers, but also happier individuals as we benefit from these (apparently) more effective applications.


Aragon, L. (1997) ‘When shove comes to "push"’, PC Week Online, 10 February 1997. Available HTTP: http://www.zdnet/com/pcweek/business/0210/10'push'.html (26 January 1998).

Dignan, L. (1997) ‘Sizing up the favorites’, TechInvestor, 16 April 1997. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.techweb.com/se/directlink.cgi?INV1997041613 (20 February 1998).

Duvall, M. (1998) ‘Has "push" technology been left in the dust?’ Inter@ctive Week, 26 January.

Elgin, B. (1997) '"Pushing" it to the bank’, Internet Computing, 20 January. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.zdnet.com./icom/content/anchors/970120/1.html (09 February 1998).

Gilster, P. (1997) '"Push" will have trouble pulling in average users’, The News & Observer, 25 November 1997. Online. Available HTTP:

http://www.news-observer.com/daily/1997/11/25/biz01.html (09 February 1998).

Haring, B. (1997) ‘Complaints aside, push is on for "push" technology’, USA Today, 02 September. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/tech/cta155.htm (09 February 1998).

Heltzel, P. (1997) ‘PC World Online readers report on new technologies’, PC World, 31 October. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.pcworld.com/news/daily/data/1097/971031163821.html?SRC=mag (09 February 1998).

McGarvey, J. (1997) ‘When "push" comes to shove’, Inter@ctive Week, 13 January. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/print/970113/inwk0069.html (07 February 1998).

Morris, John (1997) ‘The politics of "push"’, PC Magazine Online. Available HTTP: http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/features/webcast/politics.htm (09 February 1998).

Nichols, K. (1997) ‘Mass marketing to give way to interactive marketing’, Internet Computing, 20 January. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.zdnet.com./icom/content/anchors/970120/1.html (09 February 1998).

Raynovich, R. S. (1997) ‘Beware of the big "push"’, LANTimes Online, 12 May. Available HTTP: http://www.lantimes.com/97/97may/705a00lb.html (09 February 1998).

Resnick, R. (1997) ‘Which "push" delivery system is for you?’ NetGuide, 01 May. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.techweb.com/se/directlink.cgi?NTG19970501S0047 (20 February 1998).

Silverman, D. (1997) ‘Let’s all hope "push" never comes to shove’, Houston Chronicle, 04 June. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.chron.com/content/chronicle/atchron/97/06/08/compute.html (09 February 1998).



According to Forrester Research Inc., 15 per cent of the American population uses e-mail and the number is expected to reach 50 per cent, or 135 million people, by 2001 (Resnick 1997).

2 Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0 (IE 4.0) will include Active Desktop, and Netscape’s Communications suite will include Netcaster. The browsers may be downloaded, free of charge, from http://www.microsoft.com/ie/ie40/ and http://home.netscape.com.

3 Netscape uses a combination of HyperText Markup Language (HTML), Java and JavaScript, while Microsoft is advocating its own Channel Definition Format (CDF). CDF is an Extended Markup Language (XML) file that tells the browser what information to pull from a Web site and how to display it; it allows users to 'push' content from their own sites and to have content pushed to them from any site on the Web (Raynovich 1997).

4 A 1997 Yankee Group study indicated that 51 per cent of Web users say they always go back to familiar sites for information (Haring 1997).

5The $5.7 billion comprises $3.3 billion in product sales, $1.07 billion in information access, $800 million in advertising, and $530 million in content subscriptions (Duvall 1998).

6 Although webcaster PointCast charges $42,000/month for its ad spots -- double the Web average -- it has yet to turn a profit and its 1.5 million users pay nothing for their access to it (Aragon 1997).

7 The PC World Online Council comprises 11,000 volunteer users who offer opinions regularly on technology and Internet issues.