Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Media met the Web and then came Mobile

Somewhere between the mid-'90s and today, the WWW moved from technophile playground to 21st century marketplace. Along the way, well-established newspapers found themselves competing with upstart new-media companies for both readers and advertising dollars. Too bad for them - the message was getting out - ownership of information was waning .... or was it?

One of the earliest predictions about the World Wide Web was that it would eventually make available valuable information tucked away in countless books and periodicals previously accessible to only the most tenacious researchers. Soon after the mainstream public began to get online, however, it became clear that digging for data using search engines such as Google could be a frustrating, time-consuming affair.

By 1997, a nascent solution called “push” technology enabled media outlets to send news stories, stock quotes and other information directly to users’ computers rather than forcing them to log on to a Web site to access the same information. Though push quickly fizzled due to bandwidth and other issues, the concept lives on in two very different forms that newspapers recently have adopted for their own uses: RSS technology and the BlackBerry personal e-mail device.

RSS feeds—also known as Rich Site Summary and Really Simple Syndication—send story headlines and links to readers’ computers throughout the day based on the readers’ individual preferences. To subscribe to an RSS feed, readers only need a special piece of free or low-cost software such as FeedReader. The latest versions of Web browsers such as Apple Computer Inc.’s Safari and Firefox from the Mozilla Foundation of Mountain View, Calif., already contain RSS-reading capabilities.

Yet, a November 2004 survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington found that only about 5 percent of Internet users subscribe to RSS feeds. The reason, many think, is because the technology is still too technical to be understood by most Web users.

This year, several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and The Denver Post, are expected to release their own software designed to make RSS feeds less intimidating and easier to use.

Realizing that the way RSS is presented to readers is “mysterious and so aimed at early adopters,” those at the Denver Post developed News Hound, based on an application called NewsGator from NewsGator, is expected to be released this summer.

The technically minded will probably say News Hound looks dumb, but it’s friendly. It doesn’t look like a Microsoft Outlook dialog box. And yes, there’s a doggie on it. There also is a place on the News Hound window to carry a banner ad, of course.

More importantly, it puts readers in complete control of their newspaper Web site experience. They will be able to choose to receive story links related to more than 100 different categories, including those pertaining to specific communities in the their respective metro area.

Another new-media technology is similarly changing the way news is consumed.

As of May 9, there were more than 3 million people worldwide using some form of the BlackBerry personal e-mail system from Research In Motion. In April, the handheld BlackBerry device became one of the latest distribution points for The Wall Street Journal’s online content - now that's platform agnostic!

Similar to the WSJ Mobile product for cell phones, the BlackBerry system picks up headlines that are “pushed” from the Web site and other internal news sources. The service also can be set up so that a BlackBerry device will emit a beep when news on a pre-specified company arrives, he says. The current version doesn’t allow for alerts based on other subjects.

Now we're all on the lookout for the next news dissemination technology. The mobile landscape, is always evolving. Screens will not last - mobile is where we should all be looking. I will.


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