Feds push the envelope with content delivery

Content delivery to users' desktops with push technology remains a fledgling effort in most agencies with access primarily limited to checking for general news. But two new initiatives are expected to broaden the appeal and availability of the hot new technology in the federal arena. BTG Inc. has partnered with push pioneer PointCast Inc. to market a customized federal content-delivery system that will begin beta testing next month. Also the General Services Employees' Association (GSEA) and Owings Mills Md.-based Targeted Multimedia Inc. are poised to announce a new system that will allow the General Services Administration and other agencies to deliver targeted internal documents to federal users via push technology.

Touted as the hottest content-delivery tool since the invention of browsers push technology eliminates the need for users to scour the Web to "pull" specific information. Push technology uses a distribution model in which the software automatically delivers data to the user based on some criterion such as news categories or time of day. Users download push software that allows updated targeted information to be pushed to the desktop. Users identify specific topics -called channels - that they want updated every day and the push technology sends it from the vendor's server to the user's browser or e-mail or it waits until a user logs on and then downloads automatically.

PointCast and BTG are set to launch Government Insider an Internet and intranet news network tailored to the federal government community. The new network will be PointCast's first vertical industry network.

Initially Government Insider will be offering three channels in its beta version - a Defense Department channel a legislative channel and a channel with content from Government Executive magazine said James Scampavia BTG's marketing manager for Government Insider. Shortly after the initial roll-out additional channels such as a general agency news channel a government procurement channel and a federal employees' channel will be added. Other news organizations including Federal Computer Week are currently in discussions with BTG about providing content.

Via the Internet the industry-specific news will be available to agencies free. But through its GSA schedule BTG is offering PointCast I-Server which will allow agencies to set up internal news channels to distribute agency-specific news directly to employees' desktops via intranets. Several agencies - including the U.S. Postal Service the White House the National Institutes of Health the Defense Investigative Service the Defense Information Systems Agency Los Alamos National Labs Sandia National Labs and various units of the Army and the Navy - already have purchased or intend to purchase a PointCast I-Server according to Scampavia.

This approach is favored by many large organizations Scampavia said because instead of having each user set up the push technology on his desktop the I-Server resides on the network server and acts as a proxy server pushing the information out to users.

"There's an overload of information out there " Scampavia said. "What the push technology does is allow you to zero in on information that's really critical."

Scampavia said the network also will allow government agencies to fulfill their various mandates to electronically distribute information to the general public. For example the National Performance Review has expressed interest in setting up its own channel to distribute information he said. Government Insider will be broadcast alongside world news from PointCast's public channels which broadcast headline news industry information stock prices and weather among other items.

Another new content-delivery system being built by GSEA and Targeted Multimedia is GSEA World. Scheduled to be announced next month GSEA World will let agencies deliver internal documents software updates and video to targeted federal users. GSEA World also will offer news content from the Commerce Business Daily and Federal Information Digest as well as Washington metro traffic reports. The service will also offer product channels from a myriad of retail companies and will be funded by advertising revenue from these companies.

GSEA World will use push technology from San Jose Calif.-based BackWeb Technologies Inc. according to an official from Targeted Multimedia. Within weeks federal users and federal contractors will be able to download BackWeb software from a Web site for access to GSEA World. BackWeb's servers allow agencies to specify which users will receive the broadcast information.

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