Netcaster's Channels

First Published:
Date Published: 1997
Copyright © 1997 by Kevin Savetz

I have to admit, I really hated Netcaster -- didn't like push technology at all -- until I tried it. I mean, until I really sat down and used it for a while. No, I'm not an evangelical convert, I'm still rather dubious about the whole push thing. But I'm willing to admit that with careful selection of channels and when used in moderation, Netcaster can actually be useful. Without these things, Netcaster is just a big waste of bandwidth, computing resources and most importantly, your precious time.

There are few things in life to which you need constant access. There's a phone on your desk, it rings once in a while and delivers information. There's e-mail, there's your pager, very useful tools. They are useful because they are there when you need them, when there's something important that you need to know. Push isn't that sort of tool. Netcaster will deliver information to you all the time, constantly, incessantly, whether you need it or not. There's very little filtering, so most of what you get is just noise. Most of us don't leave the television on all day while we work -- even tuned to a work-related channel. Too distracting. So why would you leave Netcaster humming on your PC all day long, robbing your attention from more important things?

Netcaster is running -- spinning, scrolling, flickering -- across my desktop as I write this. Pretty colors, but I can barely think.

You need the right attitude for using push. Netcaster is a drug, too easy to abuse. If you use it, maybe once a day should be the limit. Whatever you do, don't let Netcaster run on your desktop (sorry, "webtop"), keep it confined to a Netscape window. As a webtop, Netcaster becomes live wallpaper, drawing your eyes from your spreadsheet, your e-mail, your game of Solitaire -- to the background. It will suck you in.

Cruise through Netcaster's list of channels and see what you think. From the channel finder, press More Channels -- this will reveal a complete list of available channels (as well as many that aren't available yet.) Click on the category names -- Entertainment, Entrepreneurial, and so on and explore the options. Don't be afraid to click on "More..." when it appears to see what's playing in the low-rent district.

The right channels, for the right people, make sense. Some of the business-oriented channels -- IndustryWeek, CNNfn, the Gartner Group Advisor -- might be perfect if you need to stay on top of the latest news and trends in your field. If you find a channel that's a good match with what you do, by all means tune in once in a while. But if you're subscribed to more than two or three channels, something's wrong.

Other channels might be worth subscribing to if your life revolves around surfing the web -- Excite Personal, Lycos Direct, or Netscape Guide by Yahoo! ("coming soon"... I'm holding my breath) for instance. Aren't there enough web guides out there, kids? Disney? Heckler's online? TV Guide Online? I suppose I can see the allure, but no thanks. The Interactive Sesame Street Coloring Book? I'd like to see the look on your boss' (or your spouse's) face when he or she catches you playing with that.

Some channels simply make no sense at all. Seriously: the FedEx channel? There's a half-baked concept that spewed out of a minimum-wage marketing genius. You may ship a dozen packages with FedEx daily. You may hold stock in that company, you may even work there. None of these are good enough reasons to subscribe to the FedEx channel. Shipment tracking on the Net is a wonderful tool, but only obsessive-compulsives would stoop to using push technology to track every step that their packages take. Would you tune, except perhaps to satisfy your idle curiosity, into something called the FedEx channel on cable TV? Of course not. Prey tell, why tune in with Netcaster?

Consider the MapQuest channel. MapQuest is a great Web site and an invaluable service. But it doesn't fit into the mold of a Netscape channel. Content providers need to figure out what material should be pushed and what shouldn't. Interactive maps shouldn't. If a site demands a lot of interactivity, it should be a web site, not a channel. The same rules apply to the daily crossword puzzle channel and the interactive coloring book.

Lest you think I'm a total grouch, I'll share some more redeeming channels.'s financial info is groovy, just about any of the sports channels might be bearable if you're into that sort of thing, and and Claricast rule for newshounds. If I could get past this silly conception that push has to provide useful information, I would recommend Salon, Heckler's Online, or even the astrology channel. At least they follow the push model -- interesting content, updated often (but not so often that one feels the need to download updates every three minutes), and demanding a minimum amount of interactivity.

I no longer despise push technology, and I certainly feel that Netcaster's interface is the right way to do push. However I'm still disappointed with much of the actual content. Look past the scrolling, flashing, and pushing and the cable TV credo comes to mind: 60 channels and nothing's on.

Articles by Kevin Savetz