It's finally that time of the year when people get a little crazy.
Yes, it's spring, but that's not what we mean. The cause of all the excitement is much more obvious than that, and strangely enough, sometimes more important to countless Americans.
It's NCAA basketball tournament time.
Maybe you've noticed some of the precursors to basketball brouhaha that's brewing, such as the thousands of copies of bracket ranking charts people have been churning out on the office copier when nobody was looking. Whatever the signs, March Madness is rapidly approaching.
For the next four weeks, the tournament will captivate the attentions and energies of the nation's sports fans, who will eat, sleep, and work with a copy of the rankings by their side. They will update it constantly, clench it in their fists while arguin g loudly with their friends, and they will finally tear it to shreds and set it aflame when the bets they place take a nose dive.
Until then, no one is safe from the hoopla surrounding March Madness - not even on the Web.
Sports information has always had a decent net presence, effectively multiplying the amount of time you can waste surfing through obscure trivia , but discounting the idea that the Internet is a geek-only atmosphere. As long as there are sports fans with computers, sites like ESPN's SportsZone, Nando.net's Sports pages and SportsLine will continue to rack up obscene numbers of daily hits. Simply put, sport sites are hot.
As with anything that gets transferred to the Web, though, NCAA tournament coverage has been taken a step further as sports information providers continue to try and outdo one another. There are RealAudio sound clips of games and coaches' soundbites, real-time sports chat rooms and up-to-the-nanosecond sports information services. Despite all this, the most promising trick yet may be the integration of sports coverage with push media - when it's done right, that is.
Push media reverses the flow of information in the websurfing process - instead of a user searching for information from many sources, push media applications are designed to sen d (or push) specific information to the user's browser in regular intervals. With no pointing, clicking or surfing, custom tailored information gets delivered whenever the user is online.
So far, push media applications have mostly been geared towards the 'I-need-up-to-date information' crowd, sending out personalized newscasts or stock tickers to the kind of people who compulsively log into CNN every 10 minutes. With team selections only six days away though, push media providers are vying for basketball fans' attentions, hoping to lure users with a combination of immediate coverage and interactive ra nking systems. ***(Ed: You'll need a java-equipped browser for this one)***
One such provider is the PointCast Network, now pushing their Hoop Mania coverage to the college audience as an interactive version of the standard ranking charts. PointCast has tailored their sports section to pump out updated tournament covera ge and to let users design their own individual and group ranking pools. In essence they've taken the Big Bad Bracket Rankings online, plugged it into a sports feed and given people the opportunity to compete with the rest of the world.
And this isn't a bad idea - sports coverage is all about new information, and push media could be a perfect solution to waiting for updated scores. In the first few stages of the tournament where the number of teams makes it ridiculous to track every win , for example, or when you're stuck behind a computer during the Big Game, push media would be perfect.
In reality, PointCast's Hoop Mania will probably appeal more to the office-bound sports crowd as far as active participation is concerned.
Why? Because the office users tend to have a faster and more consistent Internet connections essential to receiving regular push media updates. They also tend to spend a larger percentage of their day in front of a computer, be it working or while clande stinely surfing the day away, and therefore more of a target audience for regular information deliveries. Individual users aren't plugged in from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, and when they are it's usually through a dinky phone line, not a nice corporate n etwork pipeline.
Besides, there is a trait inherent to being a sports nut that you simply can't recreate on a computer - conflict. Half of the fun lies in battling out your opinions with other sports fanatics, and verbal sparring of this sort is a near-impossible medium to compete with. Online ranking systems are fun, but they're nothing like waving a sheet of successful picks in front of your opponent after a winning game.
So, with push media looking to fit itself into the online sports paradigm, it definitely has a place as far as timeliness is concerned. Sometimes the computer is faster than any other outlet - that can't be ignored. As far as group participation, though, push media would be better off sticking to simply providing the information to fuel the sports mania and not the medium for the mania itself.