April 1, 2001 10:00 PM PDT
Will the "refresh" button become obsolete?
A new company backed by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen and MIT Labs Director Nicolas Negroponte is bringing real-time information updates to the Web browser. No longer will stock traders and eBay aficionados have to refresh their browser windows: Bang Networks' service will update the stock price or auction bids they're looking at as the changes happen.
Bang is trying to create a version of the Net that's more like a stock trader's always-moving ticker, or the interactive face of a PC software program, than today's static Web pages. Analysts are warm to the idea, though they say the most interesting applications for the idea probably will be found beyond real-time updates of financial information or sports scores.
"It's really clever and definitely expands the envelope of the feasible," said Jupiter Research analyst Peter Christy. "It's taking care of one of the design problems in the browser, which is that you can't push information to the browser even if it's willing."
The service functions by creating a constant connection to a Web browser from a parallel content network run by Bang, a little like Akamai Technology's decentralized network of content servers. A surfer on Excite, for example, would load a full page from the original source, but then the site would establish a direct connection between Bang's network and her browser. This would remain open as long as she is on the site, updating changes in the page as they're made.
This also reduces bandwidth costs for Web sites, since they don't have to send the full page to the surfer every time she wants another updated stock quote or sports score.
The service launches shortly after the launch of a rival, FineGround Networks, which performs much the same activity though an entirely different technology model.
Bang, which managed to win $18 million in funding during last fall's venture capital drought, is launching with a few strong customers, including Excite@Home and Dow Jones.
But executives said the consumer audience for real-time updates inside Web browsers probably isn't as large as inside corporations or financial institutions, where a few seconds can actually translate into meaningful dollar figures.
"Those businesses are all about information," said Bang President Bob Rosin. "Everybody wants to move to the Internet (for their information), but there hasn't been good technologies to do this."