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Spin Webs around a CD-ROM:
The Next Generation of CD/Web Hybrids

by Richard R. Reisman, President, Teleshuttle Corporation

(To appear in Mass High Tech, September 2, 1996.)

Promising beginnings

As the Web tidal wave rushes on, the once-bright future of CD-ROM looks tarnished. Distribution is a killer, publishers have been shaken out, and the category seems to be limping along in a narrow niche. But digging deeper reveals some very powerful currents in the world of CD/online hybrids. Currents which players like Intel, Microsoft, and Netscape have not missed, and which many smaller but significant players are tooling up for.

Hybrids are simple and compelling in concept: online Web technology and offline CD-ROM technology each have major, but complementary weaknesses. The Web is dynamic and limitless--until you try to suck multimedia down your slow telephone line--a problem which will not disappear as quickly as the enthusiasts would like to think. CD-ROMs are static and limited, but supply 650 Mb of quality multimedia at high speed and can be mailed for $1. (Soon DVD-ROM will do even better). Combine them and you get the best of both--and that will not change any time soon.

First generation CD/online hybrids gained attention in early 1994, with the appearance of Microsoft Complete Baseball and CompuServeCD. Complete Baseball augmented a CD-based encyclopedia with daily online updates covering game scores and news, so it remained current. CompuServeCD augmented the online service with topical multimedia content and the ability to search offline through a massive list of online files. Hundreds of similar titles have appeared, aimed at both consumer and business-to-business markets, including Microsoft Encarta, Blockbuster Video Guide to Movies & Videos, which get current updates online, and catalog CD's such as 2Market, which allow online ordering and product updates.

The Web changes everything…but the more things change…

The growth of hybrids has been slow, partly due to distraction, and partly due consumer revenue models which were inconsistent with the availability of "free" services on the Web. But there are new currents in Web software, which bring renewed promise for hybrids to serve as powerful vehicles for information distribution and marketing.

Simple CD/Web hybrids appeared in early 1995, offering the most basic level of integration, namely the inclusion of HTML (Web format) content on CDs, and the embedding of one-way links to the Web from the CD. These exploit the ability to give or mail CD-ROMs to users. That not only pre-positions bulky content, but solves another key problem with the Web--how to get users to find you.

Much more powerful forms of integration are possible, and new Web-based tools promise to make this an ready option. A key barrier to the growth of CD/online hybrids of all varieties (one that Teleshuttle was the first to seek to remove) is the need for custom software. The removal of this barrier by powerful new off-the-shelf tools promises greater success for the second generation of hybrids.

The next generation

Three major kinds of tools have emerged within the past year. They are not yet well integrated, but as market awareness develops and fuels further development, we can expect better. The three areas are:

The first two of these enable smooth integration of the Web and CD. Whether the user starts from the Web and slips in the CD as a pre-loaded cache, or starts with a CD and links out to the Web, the experience becomes seamless. Smart browsers decide whether to get content from the CD or the Web by checking which is newer. Smart search engines give consolidated result lists with links to either Web or CD content.

As an example take the Academy Awards. Time-critical, right? Until you decide you want to see film clips that are not broadcast on the TV special. A CD with clips from all the nominees could be pretty handy. (Got a fast line?--you and how many others hitting that poor Web server at once?) One of the greatest opportunities is for richly illustrated, searchable catalogs, with current specials and online ordering. The ability to cheaply put them directly into the hands of qualified prospects is a big plus. Product documentation is another: Cisco Systems now ships theirs on a hybrid using Verity's search engine and Spyglass' cache at the rate of 80,000 per month.

Adding offline access facilities offers even more flexibility and convenience, particularly where the Web is not always accessible or responsive (ever find yourself there?). Sales force automation is a prime application. An outside salesman carries a CD catalog, and connects to the Web (or intranet) periodically to get new product and pricing information downloaded to his hard disk (perhaps overnight). It is then on his hard disk, available at customer sites, with no more need for a phone line (or cellular expense).

Reflecting the wide variety of such opportunities, InfoTech (Woodstock, VT) recently forecast CD/online hybrid titles increasing from 311 in 1995 to 720 this year, going to 3,500 in 1997 and over 25,000 in 2000. Intel recently made a major commitment to promoting hybrids as a way to circumvent the bandwidth problem that threatens to limit Web growth. Expect to see more hybrids. Figuring out exactly how you might apply this technology to serve your own information distribution needs is still not a "no-brainer," but it is well worth a little thought.

Related references:

Contact Information

Richard R. Reisman, President, Teleshuttle Corporation
799 Broadway, New York, NY 10003
(212)-673-0225 fax: (212)-673-0226

1996, Teleshuttle Corp. All rights reserved

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The ghost of Teleshuttle past:  Pages retained for historical interest -- Not current, may have broken links

Copyright 2003 (or prior), Teleshuttle Corp. All rights reserved.