Chapter 33

Pulling Web Information

by Mark Bishop


Inundated with information, the Internet is like a hungry monster kept alive by thousands of connections and fed each day millions of bytes of data from a number of information sources. One becomes lost even with the best search engines and Web browsers. However, a new era of services and programs makes finding information from the Web easy, painless, personal, and sometimes fun! Pulling Web information using the new programs and services truly enriches your personal Web life.

What Do You Call "It?"

Many buzzwords are flying around for the intelligent agents or Personal Information Gathering Services (PIGS) that essentially fetch information from the Internet and bring it back to your desktop in one form or another. The Los Angeles Times ( news retrieving program is titled Hunter, depicted as a puppy dog acting like your canine personal agent; the program fetches a personalized newspaper based on your own profile. Like many such services, Hunter is free!

Accordingly, you can have the latest headlines, stock reports, sports, finances, weather, world news, politics, and even your local TV guide listings and horoscope delivered to you. Leave behind those days of opening your front door and looking for your delivered newspaper. (Mine was stolen most of the time anyway.) Now you can display the news automatically right on your own desktop computer. Some services deliver all the information you've requested right to your e-mail box every morning.

Imagine reading the latest news about Yahoo!, Netscape, and Microsoft in just one click. Picture yourself searching a dozen major newspaper and wire service stories, all at the same time and all in a flash. Would you like a personalized Web page that contains everything you need in a single place and opens when you start your favorite browser? We have those too! Maybe you want a program that silently retrieves the selected news of your choice and caches the HTML news pages for viewing offline. Yes-got those too!

Indeed, the Web is the medium that's growing information services such as Yahoo!'s My Yahoo!, Infoseek Personal, and a host of others. If you don't use your browser to gather information, other programs such as PointCast and Freeloader take care of you. These programs reside on your computer and silently traverse the Internet to retrieve your selected information automatically. Amazing.

It seems that every day a new PIGS-type program comes into being. First, the various Internet search engines such as,, and started using the expression "personalized" Web pages. Personalized Web page services let you click the types of information you want, and presto-magic-they deliver a page that is updated with current information. Accordingly, these search engines reach out to other, larger search engines and draw upon their news sources. In short, the type of information you get back depends on the raw news sources being tapped.

Evolving Capabilities

Following the search engines, the news sources themselves jumped into the personalized information services game and offered even more personalized information. Noted online news companies such as c|net (, ZD Net (, Iworld (, and others give you a personalized Web screen that bypasses the Internet search engines and goes right to the heartbeat of their news and search engines. Other PIGS-type programs have custom software that sits on your hard drive and, like a faithful dog, fetches whatever information you want. News, news, and more news.

Basically, all the personal search programs perform the following tasks:

The many information-gathering programs available are not all the same. They do overlap in the features they provide, but they each have nuances that I discuss to help you decide whether the program or service is for you. The following sections help you decide which PIG program or service to use.

The PointCast Network (PCN)

You can find PointCast at

PointCast Incorporated was founded in 1992 to provide current news and other information to the Internet community (see Figure 33.1). The service is free but makes heavy use of advertisements, which are creatively done and shown while you use the program. PointCast also includes a very nice screen saver option. The program itself works fine with Windows, and a Mac version is beta testing in the fall of 1996 (to be notified via e-mail when a Mac PointCast is available, visit PointCast for the Mac will run on PowerMacs only. PointCast does work on NT but will not be fully supported until the arrival of a 32-bit PointCast coming out late 1996. And although PointCast version 1.0 is not supported at all, it seems to work well in a Win OS/2 environment. And due out in late summer 1996 is the PointCast I-Server which will enable businesses to broadcast their own internal news over their intranets. A PointCast I-Server software can support around 500 clients using a Pentium 75MHz system. Indeed, you'll see more of these news server programs for intranet and Internet environments.

Figure 33.1 : PointCast, a resident PIGS program.

PCN was the first PIGS-type program I used. The program looks and feels nice with many customizable features and different categories of information that include Companies, Weather, Sports, Internet, Industries, Lifestyle, the Los Angeles Times, and Pathfinder. In each of these areas, you can click to select which sources of information you want. For example, under Sports, you can select any or all of the following:

This list gives you an idea of how most of these information-gathering programs operate-providing a wide selection of choices.

"It's like CNN on your desktop...It's the most compelling app I've ever seen for a personal computer," said Dave Winer of Wired magazine. Over a million users use PointCast with largely favorable reviews. PCN software is a resident program that occupies about 3.5MB of your hard-drive space. At specific times you select, PCN ventures out into the Internet and connects with various information sources. On a 486DX2/66MHz, PCN took about ten minutes with a 28.8 modem to get all the information I requested. Currently, PCN is a 16-bit application, which makes it a bit on the slow side for performance, but a 32-bit version is due out late Fall of 1996.

The PCN graphical user interface is well designed and is both efficient and easy to use. Each category that has multiple news feeds quickly displays a summary report that lists all the various stories being offered. Just double-click to get the full story. Even if the annoying advertising box bothers you like it did me, just click the story again, and it maximizes for easier reading.

Features and More Features

PCN is rich in options such as its Smart Screen, which enables you to use PCN as a screen saver. Smart Screen brings to your idle computer news it has retrieved earlier. It activates automatically after a certain amount of idle time elapses, which you indicate in minutes, or you can simply select an active corner of your monitor's screen. Another feature is PCN's Update option. You can update your information from PCN all day long, which I recommend only for live Internet connections. In addition, you can update by scheduling or clicking the Update button. The Proxy option is for network users. If your PCN software is behind a firewall, it must be configured in order to successfully update files. See your network administrator for this information.

Pros of PCN

The direct news feed to Knight-Ridder information sources, a cool GUI interface, and the fact that it's free of charge make PCN a hot and appealing item. Its Smart Screen technology actually makes it a decent screen-saver application, too. PCN now sells a retail version of its search program bundled with AT&T Corporation's WorldNet Internet Access software and Netscape Communications Corporation's Navigator browser software.

Cons of PCN

The downside of PCN is that the current version is still 16 bit and relatively slow. Although PointCast enables you to personalize certain topics, the content is little more than a dressed-up news feed. PCN is loaded with advertisements, but you can expect that from all personal information programs and services.

Freeloader, Inc.

You can find Freeloader at

The name alone somewhat exemplifies what Freeloader does-it brings content to you and displays it attractively within your Web browser (see Figure 33.2). Supporting Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, Freeloader is a small engine that sits on your hard drive. After it surfs the Net to collect the information you subscribe to, Freeloader places the information on your hard drive for viewing at your leisure. With a toolbar that sits nicely under your Web browser and is automatically placed there, Freeloader can easily be adjusted and customized on the fly.

Figure 33.2 : Freeloader, a resident PIGS program that works with your Web browser.

Don't be alarmed: The word subscribe here doesn't mean that you are charged because both the program and many sources of information are free. Think of it like programming your VCR to record your favorite upcoming movie. You do virtually the same thing with Freeloader. You subscribe to the types of information you want, and each day it taps into Net sources of information to bring it back to you. Although you don't need a browser for Freeloader to work, you do need one to see the collected information (HTML pages).

Freeloader is actually an offline browser that enables users to download any Web content they want, including information from U.S.A. Today and The Wall Street Journal, any e-zine, sports sites, entertainment of all sorts, and business and headline news. The Freeloader search engine can find things quicker than if I searched the Web myself. I can set the time I want Freeloader to dial out and pick up my requested information. Moreover, Freeloader doesn't lock me in to what news I get, as do other PIGS-type programs.

After Freeloader starts its work, you'll notice that the HTML pages of information are cached to your Freeloader directory. I use this program almost every day and have not yet filled the 10MB I allotted for Freeloader. Reading the news and other selected information is easy and quick because I'm not gathering it online and reading it offline. Freeloader provides users with a powerful Internet tool that enables them to control the Web rather than feel overwhelmed by it.

How fast is it? On my 486DX2/66MHz with a 28.8 modem, I can run the Freeloader program and keep other applications open with no decrease in performance. However, if I open more than one browser and goof off, I notice a minor slowdown. Version 2.0 of Freeloader is significantly faster, and on anything higher than a 486, you don't even notice Freeloader working in the background. You can also configure Freeloader to search up to 12 sites at the same time; the default is four sites. As with PCN, you can configure Freeloader to update your information hourly, daily, or weekly. Users who pay hourly connect charges to the Internet can save money by reading the information from Freeloader offline. In addition, Freeloader's interactive screen saver alerts you when new content is available either online or locally. Indeed, you can actually click items from the screen saver to instantly load the selected story. In short, you enjoy high bandwidth content at hard-drive speeds rather than modem speeds. The following sections outline some of the features that make Freeloader a unique personal information gathering program.

The Toolbar

Freeloader's toolbar is a horizontal bar that appears at the bottom of your browser's screen. It was designed so that you can easily customize and edit your Freeloader content subscriptions. Earlier versions of the Freeloader toolbar bothered me because it resized my browser screen without my permission, but the newer versions seem to have fixed this. From the toolbar, you can quickly adjust your settings, add new content to search and collect, turn on the search engine, and much more.

Channels and Subscriptions

With Freeloader, the service and content are free of charge. Resembling a television in its terminology, Freeloader offers channels of information categories such as Politics, Sports, the Net, Travel, Computers, Entertainment, Marketplace, Music, News and Weather, Personal Finance, and more. Under each of these headings are scores of information providers and content that you can easily click to receive and indicate how often you want it. Beyond these channels is a personal channel (for example, "Mark's page") that delivers TV programming, local movie listings, local weather, and much more. Users can also create their own channels for hard-to-organize content.

Smarter Screen Saver

Version 2.0 of Freeloader calls its screen-saver feature FL TV. Alerting you when new content is available, this smart screen saver enables you to quickly access new content information via a graphical interactive screen saver. With its polished and animated look, this screen saver appears to be a cut above the rest.

A Time Saver

After you set up Freeloader and select the sites you want it to visit, Freeloader takes only about 10 minutes to get your information. Freeloader also presents suggestions of new content that its staff finds. Because my Freeloader dials out in the morning hours, I rarely get a busy server because there's less Internet traffic at that time.


Freeloader has a good business reputation with many popular and entertaining sites of information. Operating on a quid-pro-quo basis, the folks at Freeloader promote other Web sites in exchange for mentions of Freeloader. They collaborate with giants such as ZD Net, HotWired, Excite, Yahoo!, GeoCities, MovieLink, TV1, Match.Com, SportsLine, Travelocity, iWorld, and U.S.A. Today. According to Freeloader's Ricardo Perez, Distribution Manager, Freeloader has evolved from a content provider to a "content facilitator." With the many sites and types of Web information that Freeloader taps, it's turning out to be just that-the facilitator for our Web browsers!

Pros of Freeloader

I can say many good things about Freeloader. It works for you when you want it to. It collects everything and places it on your hard drive for faster viewing. Version 2.0 offers great flexibility in making Freeloader a truly personal type of PIGS program. The screen saver is more than decent-it's great.

Cons of Freeloader

I don't have many disadvantages to report. On my 486, Freeloader was a bit sluggish at times, but that was largely because I ran about a dozen TCP/IP applications along with my active Freeloader engine.


You can find Zippo at

When you think in terms of Usenet news and newsgroups, you often think of the popular news programs such as Fagent and News Xpress and so many other fine readers (see or for the latest news readers). Zippo offers a news service without the need for a traditional newsreader application and NNTP protocol (see Figure 33.3). According to Joe Zip, Editor of Zippo News Services, "With our interface, first-time users can read, decode, and post Usenet news with our easy-to-use, icon-driven or point-and-click Web sites."

Figure 33.3 : Zippo Direct Read News Service, a proprietary protocol that permits reading, decoding, displaying, and saving Usenet news articles via your Web browser.

All it takes is your Web browser to use the Zippo services because you don't need the old requirements for accessing Usenet newsgroups, such as tricky configurations or separate utilities for decoding newsgroup images. Those days are gone; Zippo does everything for you through your Web browser. In short, Zippo took all the functionality of a typical news server and the traditional NNTP access and made it accessible through a Web interface. Just visit Zippo's site, and you can start doing it all!

Is Zippo the Same as Excite or PointCast?

Zippo is a Usenet news server. Excite, for example, can pull up Web and Usenet-related information, but there are limitations in what is actually received, especially if that search engine is not tied into Usenet news servers. When you submit your inquiry to other search engines such as Excite, they draw their information from other various databases. Some databases are their own, and some they plug into and use. Because these are only databases, your response is limited to what the database contains and how often the information is updated. Generally, the Usenet information returned to you from other non-Usenet news servers is not as varied and informative as what you get accessing a straight news server such as Zippo. Services such as Zippo plug directly into many information news servers and other worldwide information feeds and news resources. From this propagation of news sources, Zippo can offer the best in timely and thorough Usenet information.

Because Zippo lets you use your own Web browser, you can do everything in one location from searching and replying to interacting and decoding a message. The folks at Zippo claim that their service is the only one that permits Usenet access through the Web, whereas other Usenet services must access with a newsreader or non-graphical NNTP protocol. Zippo offers 5,000 to 6,000 of the core Usenet newsgroups, and they have a Super Zippo that extends the total to 18,000 newsgroups through its subscription service that costs $9.95 a month or $69.00 a year. Receiving over 200,000 new incoming articles or messages a day, Zippo maintains a large depository of fresh news, and it enables you to interact with its servers and its information in real time.

How To Use Zippo's Direct Read News

To check out Zippo for yourself, use your Web browser and follow these easy steps:

  1. Point your browser to Zippo's home page at
  2. Find a newsgroup category that interests you and click any newsgroup listed.
  3. To decode a multi-part file, click any segment, and the Zippo server finds the other parts and puts together the whole article or file automatically.
  4. If it's a graphic file, simply click the icon to the left of the header, and Zippo decodes it for you automatically.
  5. To read an article, click the header of the message.
  6. To save an article, use your browser's Save feature under the File menu.
  7. To reply to an article from the open article, click Post at the top of the page.
  8. To post a new article, click Post at the top of the header list.

Pros of Zippo

Zippo is an excellent service for those who want quality Usenet news and newsgroups-and lots of them! Unlike other fine Usenet services such as DejaNews (, Zippo does it all for you within your browser. From over 18,000 newsgroups and binary files to an easy-to-use system, you get it all. I highly recommend it!

Cons of Zippo

It was hard to convince myself that Zippo does everything through my Web browser after I got used to my Free Agent NNTP program. The basic free 500 Usenet newsgroups were not enough for me, but then, that's why they offer a Super Zippo service. I hope more Internet services providers (ISPs) find Zippo useful and offer it to their subscribers.

My Yahoo!

My Yahoo! is one of the many personalized services that's customizable, and it's tied into the powerful Yahoo! search engine. Like many other personal news pages, it offers the latest news, stocks, weather, classifieds, sports, technology, and much more-free! Figure 33.4 shows a sample.

Figure 33.4 : My Yahoo! screen.

The Personals

The personals are everywhere these days. You name the Internet company-from Yahoo! to Excite, Netcom, Intel, MSNBC, and many others-and it probably has them. What is a personal page? Generally, it's a page that you can customize online so it displays all your favorite topics instantly if you make it your default page with your Web browser. For example, with My Yahoo!, you can select or edit a list of your favorite Web sites for quick access. You can pick Categories and Keyword Searches and add or remove sites at your leisure.

I enjoyed using My Yahoo! because it enabled me to select from a huge arrangement of information. Even the layout of the page itself and the loading speed as my default page was impressive. The title bar indicates your exact location among your personal Yahoo! pages. For example, you can customize the way you want to display main categories such as Internet, News, Contacts, Help, References, and Firefly (an intelligent agent that deals largely with the entertainment industry).

When you visit for the first time, you are introduced to a guided tour that is decent and informative. It was on the tour that I learned about one of the subcategories of Contacts. This feature ties in all the databases and search engines, such as White Pages, Yellow Pages, and E-Mail Addresses, that help you find information about people. Under each of the subcategories are other choices. I am surprised how often I use this section to look up someone and see whether he or she has a home page. For business people, this feature will come in handy. Overall, My Yahoo! is a great service.

Pros of My Yahoo!

For providing a default home page with my favorite browsers, Navigator and Explorer, My Yahoo! is among the best services available. The page is easy to configure and edit (add or remove) for all the various categories and their respected content. The nice layout means you can quickly click and read what you want. In addition, My Yahoo! also supports multiple users on the same machine.

Cons of My Yahoo!

Sometimes, the Yahoo! servers get quite busy, and I see delays, even on my T1 connection. These delays are rare and exceptional. The Instant Online News ticker-tape program (see the next section) is adequate but has no outstanding qualities, and I prefer my browser's display of My Yahoo!

Instant Online News (ION) for 95

New from Net Controls ( in conjunction with the folks at Yahoo!, Instant Online News is a small ticker-tape program that synchronizes with your personal My Yahoo!. All your news in the ticker program appears in your Windows 95 tray bin or the Windows NT 4.0 task bar (see Figure 33.5). The ticker tape scrolls with the latest news that you've customized with My Yahoo!, and you click whatever interests you to display that story within your browser.

Figure 33.5 : The Instant Online News ticker-tape program at work.

ION works with both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. This program doesn't display advertising, but it lacks configuration options and its interface is plain boring. A more intuitive interface would be nice. I prefer using the My Yahoo! service rather than ION, but it might find a niche of popularity. You can download this program through your My Yahoo! page.

Another Ticker Tape?

Among the other ticker-tape programs available is IBM's infoMarket NewsTicker, which is a part of IBM's infoMarket service of information. Although the program and the information service are free, expect IBM to begin charging for the news feeds at some upcoming date. I personally thought the design and layout of this program was excessively large (including their advertisements and font sizes) for residing on the toolbar. I do expect to see this program grow and improve in the months ahead. For more information, visit

Personal Excite

If you haven't yet used Excite (see Figure 33.6) as one of the powerful Internet search engines, then you don't get around much, do you? Excite boasts over 50 million full-text URLs and claims it has more indexed pages than Alta Vista, Lycos, Infoseek, or Inktomi. Excite offers some impressive features such as a confidence rating of relevant hits along with click URLs, and it seems to work very fast. Taking the service a step further, it also offers a personalized Excite.

Figure 33.6 : A personalized version of the major search engine Excite.

Many of these present and future PIGS-type programs and services basically offer you the same type of information. Personal Excite (PE) takes you a few steps ahead and provides a broad selection of configuration options. The following sections outline some of Personal Excite's features.

Event Reminders

Do you forget birthdays or anniversaries? You will no longer end up in the dog house because Personal Excite starts reminding you a week before the dates you schedule. Other neat features include an extensive hot list of your favorite URLs and Saved Searches, which saves your most frequent searches and keywords for new searches. In addition, Personal Excite can extract your query from its Web, Usenet, Classifieds, and Reviews categories. I entered a search on Earthquakes and Information and was surprised at how many sites had an Excite review.

Has More Than One Person Used Your Computer?

Personal Excite enables multiple people to maintain their own Personal Excite pages on the same machine. This is great if your computer is shared. With Personal Excite tied into one of the leading news agencies, Reuters News, you can be sure that your information is timely and complete. If the headlines, business, sports, international, politics, and entertainment topics are not enough, include also local ski reports, TV listings, cartoons, and more with your Personal Excite.

The following list outlines some of Personal Excite's features:

Pros of Personal Excite

Personal Excite's service provides excellent performance and information tied into one of the Internet's largest search engines. Your page is easy to configure and change when needed. It's a handy page to attach to your home page or make your default search page.

Cons of Personal Excite

The information from Personal Excite is somewhat dry if you prefer heavy graphics and colors.

Personal NewsPage Direct from Netcom

With over 500,000 paid subscribers to Netcom's credit, you can't easily overlook this nationwide ISP and what it provides in news and information with a news program called Personal NewsPage Direct. In collaboration with Individual Inc., Netcom brings to the forefront of electronic delivery news customized to your personal news interests that's delivered right to your e-mail address rather than your Web browser.

Every morning (Monday through Friday), you receive an e-mail that includes the top 20 headlines and other news summaries for you to peruse. There are no fancy graphics (actually none at all) and no links-you see just the facts in abbreviated form with just enough information so you know what's happening in the world. You do have access to full-text stories at NewsPage with this Netcom service, and you save money compared to if you didn't belong to Netcom and paid for the service directly.

Netcom offers three different versions of its service. The Basic service is free and represents about 40 percent of the news stories on NewsPage. The Premium news service and Pay Per View service represent the remainder of the news, providing additional features. Of course, if you want more, expect to pay more. The Premium news service costs an additional $3.95 per month with your Netcom account, but if you use another ISP such as America Online, for example, you pay $6.95 a month for the same service.

Who is Individual Inc.? They are the folks who produce NewsPage, a single-user, online information service designed to provide WWW users with current and presorted news. Formed back in 1989, Individual Inc. collects over 25,000 pages a day from over 600 news sources. NewsPage also incorporates a smart technology that sorts through the thousands of pages of news and puts them into over 2,300 news topics. Do not panic; all these topics are organized in an intuitive, hierarchical structure, making it fast and easy to find what you want!

Pros of Netcom's NewsPage Direct

NewsPage Direct is a unique service because it's free if you are a paid Netcom subscriber and because it's delivered to your e-mail address every morning. Although you get only summary information, you do have access to full-text versions after you link to NewsPage's site.

Cons of Netcom's NewsPage Direct

With NewsPage Direct, news arrives only during the week, minus weekends and holidays. Because news doesn't wait for weekends and holidays, a major story can happen at any time, so the limitation makes this service weak. Also, if you click a URL from a given news summary, the program connects you to the NewsPage site, but then many stories display an obtrusive Upgrade page if you want the full-text story. I guess they have to make money somehow.

The Rest of Them

With so many fine PIGS programs and services available, this section could be labeled "The Never-Ending PIGS Story." You've probably noticed a pattern by now-you can get a lot of news with a customized way to search and display-but you'll like some programs and services better than others. Just take a test drive and try them all out; they're free and they cause no pain to your computer or browser. The following sections outline some other services I enjoy.

MSNBC Personal News Page

MSNBC provides a hot site with professional staffing to make it a great place for you to visit. What do you expect when you put together Microsoft and NBC News? Both the news and pictures are stimulating and timely. Indeed, when the pipe bomb exploded during the Olympics, this site provided a sound recording in what seemed like minutes. MSNBC has just about everything you want in way of news, and you can customize what you want displayed on your personal page, including local news and traffic reports. You can also get other items of information about concert listings, child care, and pregnancy.

c|net: The Community Network 

c|net is among the leading-edge media companies that provide integrated television programming with the World Wide Web. Its television programming alone is broadcast by the Sci-Fi Channel and USA Network to over 50 million households. c|net also recently joined forces with E! Entertainment Television and developed E! Online (, which combines information and entertainment news.

c|net offers a lot of information with its leading Web magazine for news, product reviews, and other resources. In addition to the information, you can find its site (, which houses one of the Internet's largest collection of shareware and freeware software. Its famous ( offers a categorized assortment of every Internet search engine you can imagine. At c|net, you can customize your own personal search page (look under the "Search.Com" category for setting up your own Personal Page). This site is truly amazing to behold and use.

Infoseek Personal

Another famous name in Internet search engines and information is Infoseek Personal. Infoseek Personal offers a personalized news page that is well laid out and easy on the eyes for getting your news on a daily basis. Like other search engines, this service also provides a search field. This is a great site to get personal with the Internet; check it out.


The Intel site is slanted toward its own products. Although this might limit the quantity of information Intel can offer to its users, this site is geared toward the "brains" of computers and the components that make them what they are. If you want technical information regarding the Intel platform, you need to be at the Intel site. For example, the following list outlines some of the content preferences that you can select:

Intel also offers an electronic newsletter about new Web content in selected areas.

ZD Net Personal View

ZD Net provides another fine example of using your Web browser to access information. Much of what you see in the other PIGS services is available in ZD Net Personal View. Your content is nicely laid out within your browser's window, and configuration is easy, too. Furthermore, ZD Net is probably one of the better places to find an extensive amount of computer industry news. With its Personal View, you have your own clipping service to such publications as Computer Life, Inter@ctive Week, Computer Shopper, Computer Gaming World, MacUser, PC Computing, PC Week, and many others. ZD Net offers some of the best shareware programs available, which are often highlighted so you know what's free and hot to use. For example, I downloaded a ZD Net utility called Password Pro for Windows. The ZD Net Member newsletter is a very informative biweekly news source sent to you via e-mail.

Timecast and RealAudio Player Plus

The word personal takes on new meaning when it comes to computers and the Internet. First, it was personal screen savers that identified us in some personal way (from Star Trek to Flying Toasters to scrolling text). Now, our own information-gathering programs plaster our names on the pages, making even our information choices personal. To take the personal visual perception of Web information even further, we can now listen to the news-yes-with a service that provides sound.

Introducing Timecast: The RealAudio Guide

Timecast enables users to customize their own personal daily news with audio content that is timely and informative. It truly is amazing to listen to your news and even music over your Internet connection. Timecast makes it easy to find and immediately hear the news you want (see Figure 33.7).

Figure 33.7 : Timecast and RealAudio Player Plus give you the option to listen to the news rather than see it in Web pages.

The foundation of Timecast is its Daily Briefing feature that enables users to build their own custom newscast with stories and features from many noted news and entertainment organizations such as ABC, c|net, Entertainment Tonight, CBC, Fortune, ComputerWorld, Web Review, and many others. Timecast also provides a list of more than 600 Web sites that deliver audio content, including a search facility.

RealAudio Plus

A new era of RealAudio performance essentially makes you your own program director for listening to what you want, when you want. Player Plus makes it easier to organize the large amount of audio on the Net by providing Preset buttons of your favorite audio content. These buttons are similar to the presets on your stereo system.

Another advantage of Player Plus is the Scan feature, which cycles through 20 or more Internet radio stations for your listening pleasure. One of my favorite options with this program is the capability to selectively record other RealAudio files. You can save .RA files to your hard disk and listen to them later.

With RealAudio Player Plus and the Internet, you can listen to the news around you and choose what you want to hear. The RealAudio Player Plus, which retails for $29.95, is available through online order. Visit for more information.

Our Friends from Yesterday-Usenet's Beginnings

It wasn't that long ago before the Internet explosion that BBSs and FidoNet systems delivered what we thought was a world of information to our computers, consisting of hundreds of different newsgroups, echo mail, and ARPA mailing lists. I can still remember configuring my SeaDog software to link with other modems to share this information. But news grows fast. Imagine back in late 1979 when two Duke University grad students, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, thought of hooking two computers together to exchange information with the UNIX community. We have jumped miles ahead of those important days.

From those experiments came new releases of other newsreader programs and the jump from UUCP to Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP), which enabled hosts to exchange information via the TCP/IP connections. Newsreader programs developed for just about every operating system, including Vnews (written by Kenneth Almquist), rn (developed by Larry Wall, author of Perl), tin, pine, and other popular Usenet newsgroup readers such as Agent for Windows and Microsoft Internet News for Windows 95. Although online newsgroups add up to the thousands, yet another new round of news-collecting programs, PIGS, come into play.

With the continuing popularity of Usenet newsgroups and the Web, a blending of the two sources enables us to use our favorite Internet tool, the browser, for accessing information and files and interacting with that information in the manner we choose.

Where Are We Headed Next?

Expect to see very smart agents and programs that not only go out onto the Internet and gather your selected information, but find and organize all your information both on your computer's hard drive, your network, or intranet, as well as everything you got from the Internet and more. Future agent type programs will be capable of going from service to service and information source to information source, both on and off networks. Soon you will find PIGS that will leave a message to your friend, check back at a given time to see whether your friend read his message, and if he hasn't read it, turn around and fax that message to him.

A couple programs to watch include Alta Vista's Private Extensions ( and the Grasp Information Corporation's Knowit All (, which stores, organizes, and delivers all your information at the click of a button. It basically replaces your bookmark program for something better! Other programs to keep your eye on include Symantec's Internet FastFind, which automatically uses many Internet search engines and brings back your results pre-sorted and prioritized on one Web page minus any duplicated information. FastFind is available in retail software stores now. Also visit the noted Verity site,, and check out its Search'97 program, which helps you search multiple corporate sites of information plus the Internet.

The list of PIG services and programs goes on and on. You should experiment and try them out for yourself. As mentioned before, some you will like; others you will hate. Don't be surprised to see more of them. What is now available for free might turn into a cost someday-so enjoy and use them now while you have them. Obviously, the competition is heating up, and major search engine sites and news agencies want your Web traffic.

The Internet offers so much for us to see, hear, and use. A plethora of data fed by other sources eventually trickles its way down to our monitors and hard drives. Sooner or later, we'll be inundated with tons of information, not knowing what to do with it all. I guess by that time, we'll have another new program to help us sift through that mess, and on we go again!