We spend a lot of time consuming various media forms, more so than ever. One big distinction that’s often made is between “push” and “pull” media. The difference is simple: pull means someone wants something and goes looking for it (I want a recipe for potato salad and go searching for one online), while push describes something that is sent to someone (usually with their permission and referred to as the publish/subscribe model, such as my Google News alerts, although not all push media comes with permissions—spam, direct mail, etc are examples of the exceptions).
The two methods aren’t just for media: they’re as old as time. A milkman coming to your house is an example of push, while a trip to the supermarket is pull. As you can see the two words relate more to the producer of goods or services rather than the end user.
What’s clear today is that push systems in the digital age aren’t serving us well:
The things we want don’t always reach us (spam filter) or we get them at the wrong time (traffic report after we’ve already passed that intersection) or in the wrong format (at your work email address and it’s nighttime)
Our permission-based push media stuff is mixed in with our non-permission-based push stuff, creating confusion and indifference (of course, this occurred with postage mail, too. But today’s problem is different from snail mail: a UPS package and a flat piece of junk mail are inherently different and they’re easier to sort apart)
As a result, push’s shortcomings in the internet era have driven us to a lot of pull. People have just become omnivorous pullers—a day spent checking bookmarks across dozens of websites. Of course, that’s not all bad. Pull can be fun—we want to hunt when we want it. Plus, I don’t really want a potato salad subscription—I just wanted one recipe.
All the same, there are some really good things about push media:
When push media is emailed, it’s built into the most viral platform ever created: email. Like that VeryShortList description of the cool DVD? Just forward it right along, with barely five seconds of effort required.
Frequency cleans lists. The more frequent something is pushed, the more likely the recipient will: a) engage with the media or b) unsubscribe. Unsubscribing might sound like a bad thing, but it’s not. Unsubscribing creates a cleaner list and ultimately lowers costs. When companies blast their email through a vendor such as Silverpop, each address they send can be anywhere from $.01 to $.015, although in bulk this number can drop to below a cent. So, those people who never open an email and never unsubscribe are costly. Smart email marketing people scrub their lists for inactives, but it’s a gradual process overall.
Push keeps a steady, consistent revenue (traffic) stream for websites. Anyone who’s managed traffic for a web business can tell you how important their list is for keeping their “base” thick and consistent.
People just simply forget about stuff. Push media keeps products and services in front of people who are busy and would likely forget.
Given the benefits of push media and the current problems, why isn’t someone doing a better job? If a certain niche likes to consume a lot of page views of X topic, wouldn’t a push product that served up a goodly supply of X find a home?
While many companies use push media, most don’t do it well. There have been a handful of companies that have specialized in push: Flavorpill, Daily Candy, and others to name a few (there really are only a few).
I would prefer to have more innovative push services in my life than simply more bookmarks to check.