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Publishers on Push: Scott Rosenberg
Apr 28, 1997 :: Scott Rosenberg

I think a lot of the energy behind push is energy from companies -- marketers, media execs, ad people -- who want to stuff the Web into the little box of TV. It won't fit, of course. But suddenly all these new ideas and technologies come along that they hope will make it fit better.

In truth there are many wonderful things one can do with "push" concepts, and maybe we'll even get to see a few of them. But mostly what I'm afraid we'll see are big companies grabbing some very powerful technology and trying to use it toward a very simple end: controlling people's online behavior so that (a) the people see only my conglomerate's info and not yours and (b) people have more and more incentive (or less and less choice) to have their privacy invaded for the convenience of marketers.

Will it work? I doubt it. People who like TV already spend ridiculously huge chunks of their lives plopped in front of TV sets. People who like the Web like it because of the ways in which it's not TV.

The "push" developers who I think are likely to fail are those who see "push" as just a convenient way to shave off the Web's uniquenesses and make it function more like TV. The "push" developers who will thrive are those who use the new technology to move forward into a networked, many-to-many future, building on existing centers of interactive value online, like successful conversation spaces and mailing lists.

If "push" is defined widely enough to include mailing lists, then plainly push can't be all bad. But how many people out there subscribe to mailing lists and then have trouble unsubscribe? What percentage of mailing-list traffic is dumped in mailboxes and never read? When push gets big, what percentage of push traffic will be beaming out from Pointcast screensavers onto vacant office chairs?

Scott grew up in Queens, N.Y., on a mixed diet of Tolkien, Heinlein, Shakespeare and Monty Python. He's Senior Editor of Technology at Salon.



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