PointCast was launched in February of 1996 to much fanfare. The premise was simple: create a service that let people receive customized news and information pushed directly to their desktops. Sounds like a good idea. Too bad it failed and the PointCast network was shutdown in 2000.
There are lots of business reasons why PointCast might have failed. For the purposes of this post, I am interested in why PointCast, as a technology, was unsuccessful. I think the answer lies in Push versus Pull.
The primary problem with PointCast was that it was constantly pushing new information to users’ machines. That information was consuming huge amounts of bandwidth (for the time) and actually resulted in PointCast being banned in many corporate environments. However, the bandwidth usage might have been accepted if PointCast created an indispensable service. The problem PointCast encountered was that people were rarely able to consume content when PointCast decided to make it available.
This highlights a simple design principle that is as true in writing code as it is in public life: when the amount of information that is available is larger than the ability to consume it, push begins to fail. This is why RSS feeds and pull based systems like Google Reader have become so popular. When I have a limited amount of time to consume content, I want to be in complete control over what I consume, when I consume it, and how much time I give to each item.
There is an analog to this situation in the work place.
One of the greatest challenges in a corporate environment is to make sure everyone has the correct information they need to make their decisions. We often create elaborate processes to make sure documentation is correct, that materials are published on our corporate Wikis, and that people are alerted when important information has changed. This is all about the “push”. You think we’d have learned the lesson from PointCast by now. Teams need to put at least as much focus on Pull as they do on Push.
When was the last time your team put a focus on training people to consume documents instead of just creating them? When was the last time you heard someone admit that the information they needed was readily available but they just didn’t read it? Too much focus is placed on the need to create content but not on the need to consume it.
How can you get your team working harder at the pull?