USPS, NASA deliver info with 'push' technology

The U.S. Postal Service is launching a large-scale application of the fledgling Internet "push" technology which is beginning to be employed by federal agencies for a variety of content-delivery applications.

Pioneered by PointCast Inc. push technology eliminates the need for users to scour the Web to pull information such as various types of news. Users download push software that allows updated information such as news to be automatically delivered to the desktop based on some criterion such as news category time of day etc.

Users identify specific topics or channels that they want to be 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 downloads automatically. New technology such as a recent product from Caravelle Inc. continues to flood the market.

Delivering the News

USPS has been using push technology to deliver weekly employee newsletters via e-mail. Instead of requiring employees to pull newsletter information from a bulletin board they are notified of the newsletter's arrival via e-mail.

Individual departments also use the technology to send newsletters to specific readers. USPS is taking the technology to a higher level with the deployment of Postal Vision according to Margot Myers USPS' manager of employee communication and creative services. Postal Vision is a video content-delivery service based on technology from Target Vision Rochester N.Y. The system which now has been deployed to 233 Postal sites throughout the country will eventually be installed in 380 locations and reach 300 000 to 350 000 employees Myers said.

The content - which appears as slides not full-motion video - is delivered via modem and phone lines to TV monitors located in employee cafeterias break rooms and other central locations. The vendor supplies a package of international and national news and weather and sports while USPS' headquarters adds national Postal news such as the status of the agency's budget on Capitol Hill or the availability of new stamps. Area and local managers also can post information that will be sent only to the employees in those particular geographical areas. The content is updated four times a day.

USPS information technology personnel now are running tests sending the content via the agency's wide-area network which Myers said would be faster and less expensive. Plans are also in the works to test a desktop version of Postal Vision that would allow employees with access to a workstation to click on an icon to view the information or have it stored as a screen saver. Myers said the system is effective for pushing information to the almost 95 percent of Postal employees who do not have e-mail.

"It is access to everyone in a site and it doesn't matter where they are in the chain of command " she said. "If I'm an employee who has a supervisor who does communicate or doesn't communicate well I still know what's going on in the organization."

Pushing Procurement

NASA recently began to employ the technology to push procurement announcements to vendors. NASA's Acquisition Internet Service now allows contractors to sign up to have advance procurement notices solicitation releases post-award notices and other general procurement notices pushed to their desktops instead of users routinely having to visit the NAIS Web site.

NASA posts all competitive acquisitions valued at more than $25 000 via the Internet as part of its acquisition service.

While the federal government is just beginning to tap the potential of push technology the technology itself soon will be embedded in almost all Web browsers. Netscape Communications Corp. and Microsoft Corp. plan to incorporate push technology in their next browser releases. They will join the more than 40 vendors that offer push technology today. To add even more functionality some companies now are beginning to develop "smart push" technology or "push-pull" technology.

Push or Pull

Caravelle a Canada-based company whose customers include the White House and NASA launched a product last month called Transceive which uses a content-monitoring engine to pull information from any Web server and direct it to the targeted audience's desktop. Transceive can be used to monitor any Web site to which a user has access no matching server software programming or scripting is required Caravelle officials said.

Also instead of blindly pushing content to users Transceive can broadcast via "smart channels " an intranet application that can send existing documents that are color-coded to indicate policy changes or updates. All the intelligence resides in the client which is pretuned according to the user's profile. As the push technology market continues to develop so does the array of applications.

But the technology is not without its drawbacks content delivery causes innumerable bandwidth problems which most vendors have not been able to resolve and security safeguards for this technology do not yet exist.

Still applications based on push technology surely will have an important impact on the evolving Internet. One researcher said recently that push technology and powerful search tools will take over the Internet and replace the Web in the next several years.

"The Web is dead it is not the technology that is going to take us forward " said Paul Callahan group director of corporate IT research at Forrester Research at a London meeting of the company's European Forum. "It's just too large for surfing to work anymore. The Web will be like DOS it will take a long time to go away but it will not be the ultimate winner."

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