Pushing Past

SAN MATEO (04/10/2000) - Push technology moved from being heralded to being vilified in less than a year as IT managers resisted product offerings that brought the network to its knees. Since then most of the companies in this space have sought to re-invent themselves save one. BackWeb Technologies Corp. went back to basics to create a network-friendly set of push technologies that company President and CEO Eli Barkat calls "Polite Push." In an interview with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, Barkat talks about the future of push technology in the age of e-business.

InfoWorld: What's driving push today as a tool for e-business?

Barkat: There's something wrong with the concept of portals today, because everybody builds portals. If you're a reseller, you have to go to 50 different personalized portals every day to check out changes because you support 50 products. What you want to do is go into one portal that is your portal. If the people you work with have a proactive portal, which is push-enabled, then all you have to do is subscribe, based on your profile, to the things that are most interesting to you. Once you subscribe to multiple sites, everything gets pushed into an [information] center, which is the one place to go to look at the most critical information that's relevant to you.

InfoWorld: How does that work?

Barkat: It basically provides priorities to different channels. You could define lifecycles; you could define what ... you allow to be more intrusive than others. And then, basically, what we do is ... bring all the concepts from the different places into one area, and we treat them all based on those priorities. In the future, either BackWeb or somebody else will come up with some more intelligence on the content management side of things.

InfoWorld: How do you see the interplay between portals and digital exchanges evolving?

Barkat: We're really solving the last problem for three different types of content. Rich content where businesses are leveraging compelling content, time-sensitive content, and concepts that can't be ignored. You have to ask what do people want to do when they have a million-dollar opportunity? Trust the Internet or e-mail to deal with it? Basically everyone will tell you that they may send an e-mail, but they'll definitely pick up the phone. Well they'll also pick up the phone for inventory alerts, service alerts, and all kinds of other alerts. Now in the digital exchange world, it's even worse. Because everything you deal with is information that can't be ignored.

InfoWorld: Can you define the Polite Push concept and explain how it will revive this technology?

Barkat: There's no doubt that the biggest things that slowed us down in the past were the perceptions about push. It was a dead market, and still some people think that. Push died because of two things. One, when it scaled to a million users, it killed the networks. So we came up with the concept of Polite Push that does three various simple things. First, we only push information when the network is idle. If you think about it, most of the time you're using a network, you're thinking about what you want to download [yourself, and] you're thinking about what you want [to have] downloaded. We sense that time, and we use it. We're also interruptible, so we pick up from where we left off.

We also deliver only changes to a package that was delivered before. And every desktop will receive a package from the closest resource on the network that already has it, eliminating a single point of traffic from a single server.

InfoWorld: What will be the relationship between push technology and wireless devices?

Barkat: We've told everyone that one of the biggest efforts for us this year is wireless. We think that [Polite] Push is the killer unified-messaging application. [Polite] Push is really the way to get people to use their browsers and their cell phones. One of the things that we're building is the concept of escalation. What we've found is for critical information, it has this connection built in. If you have a lead, you call someone. If you don't find[that person], you call someone else. If you don't find [that person], and you don't call someone else again, you don't leave that call until you find somebody that acts on that information. So we're connecting it to wireless. The workflow will include finding you on your PC, and then if you're not there, finding you on your wireless device. And if you're not there, then find you on your PDA [personal digital assistant].

The whole idea is to do this without leaving any tracks. Because what you don't want, when escalation is over, is to have 50 people finding that information on 50 different devices when it's not important anymore. So we will launch a wireless-enabled infrastructure in the second half of the year, and we will connect it through partnerships and acquisitions and stuff we will build ourselves throughout the year.

InfoWorld: At what point does push get embedded into an operating system as a core function?

Barkat: We're an infrastructure company, and we want our infrastructure to be embedded anywhere and everywhere with applications like SAP, with portals like MySAP, with consumer applications like Real Networks, and with other platforms going forward. We believe that towards the middle of the year the market is going to realize push is an effective component of e-business.

InfoWorld: So what's your biggest worry?

Barkat: As people go out and start building e-business, they know they need personalization, they know they need e-mail, and they know they need [Polite] Push. We need to get to that point, because today, we're building a market based on push going into the applications. That's the goal for this year.

BackWeb Technologies Inc., in San Jose, California, can be reached at www.backweb.com.

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