Digital Bindery posts Web updates to your e-mailbox

Bookmarks can't tell you when something important has changed on a World Wide Web site.
Digital Bindery can.

 This free information retrieval service from U.S. Interactive Inc. monitors your
favorite sites for fresh information and delivers the changed pages to your desk by
e-mail.

 Think of it as a personal agent that automatically monitors agency intranet sites
for changes in policy, personnel or project schedules. Webmasters can use it as a quality
control tool to track development projects.

 You subscribe online at http://www.bindery.com.
Digital Bindery then applies a Java script to load a frame for you that has a subscription
tool and a navigation bar. With these tools, you surf to all the sites with pages you want
on your custom subscription list.

 If you choose your sites in advance it saves time, because navigating to target
sites via the proxy server can be slow.

 Fortunately, you need to use the proxy server only when adding or deleting Web
pages. List maintenance must be done at the Digital Bindery site. Auto-logon eliminates
the need to re-enter name and password information every time you access the site.

 When your list is complete, Digital Bindery begins monitoring the pages you
specified and delivers any modified pages, complete with images and working links, to your
mailbox. You can exclude images if you wish.

 Content arrives once a day, or, perhaps more correctly, once a night. I've never
stayed up to see what time the Digital Bindery mail arrives, but it's in my mailbox every
morning. Some users of retrieval services are accustomed to more frequent deliveries.
Those who want near real-time news should look to the PointCast Network or turn on the
television instead.

 What Digital Bindery lacks in timeliness, it makes up for in stability. The first
delivery includes a platform-specific administrative program that creates directories,
handles file uncompression, launches the Web browser and loads content for viewing. The
executable file is only 60K after expansion, and that's teeny compared with today's
disk-hungry applications.

 During installation, you also can set the Digital Bindery application to overwrite
yesterday's mail and hold down disk clutter. But choose carefully, because you can't
change the option later.

 Unlike programs that run continuously in background, the application runs only when
executed to view deliveries. Subscribers don't suffer from the system conflicts or
overhead problems experienced by some PointCast Network users.

 Once installed, Digital Bindery is straightforward to use. Each delivery has an
attachment labeled bindery.dbd. Double-click on the file to launch the browser and load
the content for viewing.  


Using a manila envelope as a visual metaphor, Digital Bindery presents a table of
contents of the modified Web pages. From here, you select items for viewing. Because you
look at the pages on your local system, performance is much faster than with online
browsing.

 Digital Bindery won't work with pages that have meta-refresh tags to pull new
information from other sources but don't themselves change. Nor will it work with pages
personalized for individual users.

 There are other limitations, too. Subscribers must have a frame-capable browser, and
sites dependent on Java applets, Shockwave applications or other multimedia plug-ins
probably won't be viewable. As a rule, if the page doesn't display properly with the
Digital Bindery subscription tool, it probably won't work with the Digital Bindery app.
 


Frames are troublesome. The uniform resource locator for a collection of framed
documents points to the parent frame, which usually holds relatively static information
such as a table of contents. The problem is that Digital Bindery can't access the child
frames that hold the dynamic information you want.

 Because so many online publishers use frames to organize content, this failing is
significant. Digital Bindery officials have acknowledged the problem and promise a smooth
work-around.

 Some users also will be disappointed that Digital Bindery monitors individual Web
pages, not entire sites. The developers experimented with a site feature and determined
that the risks outweighed the benefits, because it could overwhelm e-mail servers and
local hard drives.

 Digital Bindery programmers could design user controls to set limitations on this
data. But I prefer the one-page approach. I'm drowning in data as it is.

 Although Digital Bindery is free, the registration process asks for certain personal
information: sex, ZIP code, telephone area code and local exchange prefix. This request
troubled me, and I asked what the company planned to do with the data.

 Senior software engineer Philip Feairheller told me the information is used to build
a demographic picture of subscriber surfing habits. 

"The amalgamated information is sold to third parties, but individual subscriber
information is not released," he said.

 "We will not release e-mail addresses," said Robert Kost, a Digital
Bindery vice president. He said the company plans to generate revenue by selling
advertising space on the virtual envelopes that deliver content to subscribers. The
company has posted its privacy assurances on the Web site.  


Another murky issue is copyright infringement. What makes Digital Bindery stand out
from such competitors as PointCast or Netscape Communications Corp.'s In-Box Direct is
that subscribers can have content delivered from almost any Web site.

 This raises the threat of potential copyright infringement. Competing products
supply proprietary information or make subscribers choose from a list of partner Web
sites.

 Is U.S. Interactive really infringing copyrights? The company intends to profit from
the works of Web publishers, albeit indirectly. The content delivered is unquestionably
the property of others. 

But most Web content is freely available to any user with Internet access. Digital Bindery
simply uses an Internet protocol to deliver the same information the user would access
anyway.

 Because the subscriber is the party that receives and uses Web content, it might be
argued that Digital Bindery is a neutral transport agent and that any copyright
infringements are the subscriber's problem.

 Despite these concerns, I find Digital Bindery extremely useful. The company seems
committed to the product and responds quickly to user suggestions. The software, simple in
concept and execution, could prove indispensable to those of us who track lots of
Web-style information. 


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