Features - Staying Current with Push TechnologyBy Gary Teal, Published on November 1, 1997
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||Its difficult, in a
discipline defined by constant change, to tell the
difference between the usual parade of new product
versions and an honest-to-goodness new idea one
that changes the way we work. I believe that Push
Technology the notion that useful information can
be delivered automatically ("pushed") to you so
you dont have to pro-actively search for
("pull") useful information is not a fad
or a neat feature added to existing products, but a real
paradigm shift in the way we gather and use information.
Technologies come and go constantly. Every product goes through the same stages of life. First someone has an Idea that strikes most as being useless or even dangerous (carphones circa 1960). When a prototype is created, it becomes a New Toy for the Rich (carphones circa 1970). When more people come in contact with this new technology, but dont have one yet, its an Impolite Gadget (think of cell phones in restaurants circa 1988). Suddenly this gadget becomes a Readily Available Commodity lots of brands and models (cell phones 1995). Then, magically, it becomes an Indispensable Business Tool (was this two years ago or next year?), ubiquitous and expected! Of course, at some point well have little Dick Tracy communicators in our wristwatches, and the bulky devices were using now for portable telephones will be a Smithsonian Exhibit. Still, in the end, were talking about a continuum of telephone technology that started with Bell a century ago. Before the telephone you couldnt just talk to someone unless you physically met with them, and they couldnt bother you without getting past your secretary or your butler or even just a closed door.
butlers reminds us that being extremely rich has always
been convenient. Today, having the resources of a large
law firm or a large inheritance means that you can have a
staff of expert librarians sift through the unimaginable
avalanche of available information and bring you only the
interesting stuff. But more of us are "knowledge
workers" than ever before. The velocity of business
is much greater than ever before. It simply isnt
possible to have enough manual researchers to meet
everyones needs. These forces make the emergence of
Push technology necessary. The availability of fast
computers, combined with a network connecting virtually
all of us, make the emergence of Push technology
I dont want to oversell this technology. Telephones dont replace face-to-face meetings. Computers dont replace librarians. Push has been a big deal for more than a year now, and products like PointCast popularized the notion but didnt solve the worlds problems. A lot of press suggested that Push was uniformly evil. Certainly the word itself is unfortunate. I have two young children, and the word Push conjures images of skinned knees or even heroin addictions. Famous columnists have equated Pull with democracy and free will and Push with Orwell and Advertising. But its just an immature field in my opinion. Were seeing the Model T version of Push technology today.
|Today, having the resources of a large law firm or a large inheritance means that you can have a staff of expert librarians sift through the unimaginable avalanche of available information and bring you only the interesting stuff.|
|Today, no one expects you to be familiar with the contents of hundreds of publications, much less within days or hours of their publication. But Push products allow us, for the first time in history, to sift through all of this material for the name of our clients business or a key topic or issue.||The
flavor of Push that will make our lives better combines
convenient delivery with intelligent filtering. Another
buzzword for this combination is Intelligent Agents.
Already, online services can do keyword searches through
the material that they add, and then allow users to see
these updates. The original version of this capability at
LEXIS-NEXIS was the Eclipse feature, introduced in the
late eighties. More recently, a family of Current
Awareness products, including InfoTailor and Tracker,
has been brought to market by my company. The best Push
site Ive seen so far on the Web is NewsPage, at www.newspage.com. Clearly, these products will
evolve, both in the sophistication of the searches they
do, with thesaurus-based searches and relevancy ranking,
and in the delivery methods, with regard to ease of use
issues such as format and timeliness.
Increasing expectations are key to my theory that this technology will become widely used. In mere existence of a technology inevitably drives its use, at least at the high levels of service provided by law firms. As with the cell phone example above, customers (clients) expect their service providers to adopt new technology. This is particularly true when the service generates large fees. Today, no one expects you to be familiar with the contents of hundreds of publications, much less within days or hours of their publication. But Push products allow us, for the first time in history, to sift through all of this material for the name of our clients business or a key topic or issue.
adopters of this technology will benefit by going beyond
current expectations. Clients will be astounded and
impressed when their attorney demonstrates that she has
read every article mentioning their organization, even
when the article appeared in a small newspaper or
magazine. But I believe that as this concept becomes more
widely used, the expectations of clients will grow
quickly, just as they did with communications technology.
My prediction is that at some point in the not so distant
future clients (or anyone with whom we do business) will
be disappointed if we are unaware of published
information that would clearly be relevant to our
interests. They will have to wonder whether we are
unaware of a common, useful technology, or whether we
simply dont value that relationship highly enough
to be tracking the relevant issues.
Early adopters will also be driven crazy by the weaknesses that exist in any technology when its new. Searching technology is still usually based on finding particular, specific words, but we all know that even proper names can have forms that differ from the official versions think of Big Blue or The Gipper. General concepts may be impossible to find. Another problem is that the same text may appear many times in publication. The most common example of this is wire stories, and it isnt very rewarding to receive dozens of copies of the same article because it appeared in dozens of newspapers.
Even if duplications are somehow detected and eliminated, the volume of material may overwhelm the user. If you receive twenty or fifty or two hundred pages of "relevant" information that you used to be blissfully missing, you will quickly grow to hate this type of technology, and turn it off. I compare this process to tuning a radio. You have to turn one knob very carefully, back and forth, until you get a clear signal, without other radio stations that you dont want to listen to coming through the speakers with your channel. Then theres another knob for adjusting the volume. You can hear more individual instruments and pick out more details at high volume. But you cant think about anything else when the volume is too high.
I would bet that most users will need expert help in tuning Push tools, and the most logical place to turn is to a librarian. Librarians will turn to reliable, authoritative services that provide access to the largest possible variety and number of sources. It seems that all of us have plenty of work to do for the foreseeable future.
|My prediction is that at some point in the not so distant future clients ... will be disappointed if we are unaware of published information that would clearly be relevant to our interests. They will have to wonder whether we are unaware of a common, useful technology, or whether we simply dont value that relationship highly enough to be tracking the relevant issues.|