ERCIM News No.36 - January 1999

Pushing Environmental Information

by Tuula Käpylä

VTT Information Technology has been designing and implementing a push application for EIONET (European Environment Information and Observation Network) to intensify the acquisition and distribution of environmental information of the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Information overload makes it more and more difficult to get the right information at the right time. The ‘traditional’ pull technology model is becoming a limit for more efficient use of the WWW, specifically requesting information from a particular source, eg downloading a page with a browser is an example of pull technology. At present, pull technology seems to be adequate for information that is not time or content critical. As the WWW grows in size and complexity, however, new information delivery models such as push technology will become increasingly important. Push technology is a technology by which a program running on a workstation can either request or receive information from the WWW automatically (on a pre-arranged schedule or when certain events occur) and then display that information on the screen.

Personalised Information flow by IDA-PUSH

EIONET is a co-operative organisational network of institutions that assists the European Environment Agency in providing the European Community and its member states with environmental information. It also allows the electronic exchange of information between these organisations. EIONET is currently an intranet connecting multiple national hosts (intranet nodes).

The IDA-PUSH application manages documents retained and edited under a workgroup program (IRC Circle) based WWW repository. This workgroup program enables interest group members to load documents and modify them on the server.

The push functionality means the ability of the IDA-PUSH application to inform its users of the changes in the WWW repository that might interest the user. The information mediated to the user by push technology can consist of actual data or links to the data. Users can personalise their information flow by selecting which channels they receive as well as the type of information broadcast within each channel.

Push Advantages

  • Push technology can reduce the burden of acquiring data for tasks in which there is a large information flow. Push technologies improve efficiency by downloading information to a user's system in a scheduled fashion so that it can be rapidly viewed, thereby eliminating the risk of the user never viewing the updated information. The user always has the latest information. No longer do users have to search for the information.
  • Push technology can reduce the burden of acquiring data for tasks where occasional, time-critical data must receive immediate attention.
  • Businesses are able to target users with more precision, focusing on those who are more likely to benefit from their products or services.
  • Automatic downloading of software upgrades and fixes is a way to deliver software faster and, at the same time, reduce the costs associated with packaging and selling through the retail channel. A key factor in allowing such distributed services is a security system applicable on either side of a firewall.
  • Only new and changed information has to be sent to the computer, so access to the Internet and download time is minimised.
  • The software is run on the client side, minimising processor use of company’s WWW servers. Servers can use more processor time for data production rather than the processing of numerous client requests and the transmission of much data over the network. Servers can better manage the amount of data transferred over the network.
  • Response time is generally quicker because the information is on a local computer, not on a remote server.
  • Because push applications run mostly on the client side, users can more easily protect their privacy. In many push applications the user profile and the log information about the user's behaviour are stored in the user's computer. An ordinary WWW application stores this data in the content provider’s database.
  • Push technology enables intelligent information filtering based on personalised user profiles describing required information needs.
  • When some data must be provided to employees in compliance with laws, company rules, health and safety and quality control, push technology can help here if combined with some mechanism for reporting when users have spent sufficient time assimilating the received information.

The information coming to a user's workstation is a summary of a larger document that the user can access by requesting additional details. By clicking on a headline the full article appears on the screen. Personalised screen savers keep the user informed of the latest information with headlines that scroll across the screen. The IDA-PUSH screen saver uses headlines to inform users of new meetings and the latest documents. A personalised ticker is a movable, bar-shaped window that can even display time-sensitive information while the user works in other applications. A ticker can also run on the screen saver. IDA-PUSH uses the PointCast Intranet Broadcast Manager to broadcast information.

The IDA-PUSH application is general enough to be applied to different WWW repositories with a reasonable amount of work. In the IDA-PUSH project we have also reviewed the current market availability of push tools as well as the differences between them. The project was carried out in co-operation with EEA and Tieto Corp.

Please contact:

Tuula Käpylä - VTT
Tel: +358 9 456 6054

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