Bits & Bytes
A NO-FUSS ROUTE TO INTERACTIVE TV
COMPUTER AND CONSUMER-ELECTRONICS MAKERS, from Microsoft to RCA, are once again pushing interactive TV. The easiest way to get a glimpse of the digital future, though, may come from Wink Communications. This Alameda (Calif.) startup makes software that, when built into a TV or cable set-top box, lets viewers receive enhanced two-way broadcasts. Viewers use the remote control to click on a Wink icon on the TV screen, and a menu pops up offering additional info about the show or ad they're watching. But unlike other interactive-TV offerings, such as Microsoft's WebTV, there's no special hardware to buy and no subscription fee. (Wink makes its money by selling the software to broadcasters and, down the road, by taking a cut of electronic commerce transactions.)
The Wink software is being built into set-top boxes from NextLevel Systems and Scientific-Atlanta. In addition, late next year, Toshiba Corp. will start selling a TV with the Wink software and a modem built in. Wink has also signed up its first major network, NBC, which plans to add interactive features to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and National Football League games so you can get bios of Leno's guests or stats on any football team while watching the program.EDITED BY HEATHER GREEN Amy CorteseReturn to top
A NET PARADISE FOR JOCKS
HARD-CORE ATHLETES WITH LITTLE TIME to buy the equipment they need may find a solution on the Internet. A new Web site, Sportscape.com, launched on Dec. 1, aims to be to the sports-equipment market what Amazon.com is to the publishing business. It offers more than 2,500 products ranging from baseball gloves to hockey sticks at prices 10% to 30% below retail.
Sportscape was founded in February by two Princeton University alumni who thought the online offerings of the sporting-goods industry were too narrow: There were just too many manufacturers to deal with individually. Sportscape overcame that by hooking up with distributors. It offers equipment from brand-name companies, including Wilson Sporting Goods Co. and Spalding Sports Worldwide, and competes with such merchants as Recreational Equipment Inc. and TSI Soccer. While Sportscape focuses on eight sports--including hockey, lacrosse, and soccer--it still isn't the place to go for some of America's favorites, such as football or golf. It plans to add those and other sports--as well as shoes and apparel--within the next year. The goal: 100,000 products sold online within the next 18 months.EDITED BY HEATHER GREENReturn to top
WEB RINGS: AN INTERNET MARKETER'S DREAM
3COM CORP. GIVES WORD OF mouth some of the credit for turning its PalmPilot handheld device into an overnight success. Now, it's getting another boost from the latest trend on the Internet: Web rings. Those are nifty links to related Web pages--marked by icons at the bottom of Web sites--that help guide consumers through cyberspace to find the info they want. A ring on handhelds might show a road map of the next five links on everything from fan clubs to retailers. PalmPilot is connected to no fewer than 200 sites via four rings.
The Web ring phenomenon, which started in 1995 with a nonprofit organization called Webring, has taken off in the past few months. It even has commercial copycats, including LoopLink in New York. Now, Starseed Inc. in Ashland, Ore., which bought Webring last June, is about to relaunch itself as a commercial operation. Its site-linking service will still be free. Early next year, it plans to offer a set of fee-based E-commerce services for sites that want to sell through the rings.EDITED BY HEATHER GREEN Steve HammReturn to top