Remembering PointCast – The Original

For those who don’t remember this long-defunct product, or neverhad a chance to experience it, PointCast was amulti-media push-technology news feed that took off back in 1996.Allowing the user to select a variety of channels from a number ofsources (albeit all aggregated through PointCast central), alongwith stock tickers and customized weather, PointCast took the stagewhenever the screensaver kicked in. It turned idle PCs across theland into customized news terminals, earning revenue for itscorporate masters by displaying time-spliced advertisements amongstthe news.

PointCast’s rich graphics, generous content, and cleanaesthetics made it a winner. Corporations were clamouring forPointCast caching servers to offset the 1000s of workstations allpolling for updates and overwhelming their networks. Its successled many to proclaim that push technology was where it wasat. Microsoft and Netscape immediately engaged in a war ofpush (both integrating their own technologies – Microsoft createdCDF, with Active Desktop as its canvas, while Netscape createda conceptual relative of RSS…calledRSS. Both stagnated when the push ferver died down, though ofcourse the modern RSS rose from the ashes several years later).

At the height of it all, in early 1997, PointCast was offered astaggering $450 million dollar buyout. Feeling that they coulddo better, they held out. Not long after they were sold for a lessthan $10 million. This was a mini-.COM bubble popping, and shouldhave served as a foreboding warning of the technology marketimplosion of the early 00s. Imagine how regretful the group whodecided against the $450 million offer must have felt (and probablystill feel).

I still look back fondly to PointCast. It, along with You Don’tKnow Jack – The Net Show, seemed to promise such a remarkablenew internet world of rich content. And they managed to pull it offwhen most of us were lucky to have 2 KB/s connection (I now get600KB/s).

It is amazing how much we have technically achieved, with bothPCs and connections 100s of times faster, yet rich content has inmany ways wallowed.

* – PointCast wasn’t really push. Indeed, neither isclient-side RSS. Instead they’re both polled/scheduled pulls.Contrast this with SMTP, which actually is push: When ServerA hassomething for ServerB, it actively connects to and “pushes” themessage. Pedantic point for sure, but I thought it worthmaking.