Surfing the Web has suffered a wipeout. What serious businessperson has the time to navigate thousands of sites to find the handful whose content really matters? But don't log off just yet. The Web is reinventing itself — reversing the model by which users interact with content providers. The inspiration for the new model, believe it or not, is television. Forget the find-it-yourself anarchy of the old Web. On the new Web, users preselect a reasonable number of "channels" and let the content come to them.
Call it Webcasting. The flagship company of the second Web revolution is PointCast Inc. Since its debut in February 1996, 1.7 million people have registered to use the PointCast Network. You personalize the network by choosing from 21 channels — including CNN, channels that offer data on companies, sports scores, even a collection of national and regional newspapers. Better yet, you don't even have to flip on PointCast to flip the channels. It operates like a screensaver; when your computer goes to sleep, your channels come alive.
Webcasting takes several other intriguing forms. For example, you don't even need the Web. AirMedia Live's Internet Broadcast Network delivers customized news, information, and entertainment to your PC via the airwaves. The 500,000 subscribers to Mercury Mail, another Webcasting service, receive personalized content via email. But this isn't email as we know it. It's HTML email. Messages arrive in the form of Web pages rather than text, which radically changes how you can use them. And the new model is taking hold inside companies as well. INCISA, a Webcasting system from Wayfarer Communications, is designed to do for intranets what PointCast has done for the Internet.
The four people profiled here are Webcasting pioneers. They're picking the network that's right for them, choosing the channels that deliver the most value, and discovering what they'd like to see next.
"Kim Polese Programs the Future"
"Netscape's New NetSpeak"
"What to Watch on PointCast"
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.