Panel: the future is a wireless push

A panel of experts held forth at the Seybold publishing conference on Thursday about the look of text and graphics in the near future and which delivery devices they will appear on. Wireless technology will dominate the publishing landscape within a couple of years with push advertising and push information standing as the most profound development in this arena, the panel agreed.

Eli Barkat, chairman and chief executive officer of BackWeb Technologies, addressed both current and predicted development in content communication, giving the Seybold crowd a glimpse of a highly personalised future.

BackWeb embraces a push model of e-business where the company gives clients the ability to track both customers' and employees' Internet-based activities. For Barkat, increases in mobile phone functionality and usage might help his company fine tune aspects of content delivery in a way that directs increasingly specific content to individuals.

"Push technology brings immediate feedback," Barkat said. Above all else, the speed and highly detailed nature of information gathered by a push-based vendor can aid both business executives and advertising firms alike, he maintained.

Barkat related one instance where a corporate head honcho discovered that 60 per cent of his employees failed to open key data files on a regular basis. In another case, a magazine publisher discovered that only a couple of articles on the publication's Web site gained the attention of the majority of its readership.

Under Barkat's model, users can track who received certain content, when it was read, and what the user eventually did with the information he or she received. The information tracking, however, can go even further to make sure that the user only receives certain content such as advertisements or key financial data at one location be it a mobile phone, PDA (personal digital assistant), fax or a PC.

For executives with hectic schedules, this means that BackWeb's technology will detect if you left the office before receiving some financial data because it was not opened at the company e-mail address and will then send the data to a mobile phone instead. For the advertiser, this provides a way to avoid sending a customer relentless copies of the same promotion. "The sender knows who received the package, who opened the package, and then maybe some information about the receiver previously stored on the network," Barkat said.

In another scenario, a mobile phone vendor could see when a user purchases the latest model of a phone and then send a video accessories commercial to the user's home computer. If the phone vendor already has a profile of the user on record, a tailored message could also be transmitted to he or she via their mobile phone, giving directions to phone outlets or special deals on targeted items. "Those that get to consumers first are the ones that are going to win," Barkat said.

Vin Crosbie, president and managing partner of Digital Deliverance, took many of the same push principles and applied them to the delivery of news in his look at how information-based organisations will survive in the years to come.

He urged companies to adopt a "slice-and-dice" model to content delivery that places the cell phone as the cornerstone of the information game. As graphics files improve in quality and reduce in memory requirements, Crosbie sees companies taking specific bits and pieces from magazines, catalogs or newspapers and sending this reduced content to users via mobile phones.

If this type of content transfer is going to work, he also said that micro transactions will need to be more readily available and utilised. "Credit card companies won't process a transaction under 35 [US] cents," Crosbie said. He urged the credit card business to jump on the micro-transaction bandwagon before the telephone companies, used to billing in cents, dominate wireless billing on top of providing the service. Crosbie also found that the average user spends only 20 minutes a month on the Web sites of the largest US newspapers -- another reason to push focused content instead of the whole paper.

Andy Tribute, international editor of Seybold Publications, echoed some of the his fellow panelists' views concerning wireless text transference. "Be ready for the cellular revolution," he said. Tribute pointed to EPOC operating system vendor Symbian as the company who could very well dominate wireless applications. "This is who Microsoft will compete against in the future," Tribute said.

Matsushita Electric Industrial, Psion, Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola all license EPOC and hold stakes in Symbian. Tribute believes that UK-based Symbian will provide the dominant operating system for next-generation mobile phones and so have a leg up in the rush to provide user-specific information on wireless devices.

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