DAILY INSIGHT: Push and pull technologies

By Doug Johnson, CIO Advisor

A friend and colleague blogger recently bemoaned:

"The new assistant superintendent for our department here in the overly-large school district says he wants to

improve communications both within the organization and with his office.

To that end, a couple of months ago he started writing a weekly email message to all of us. Lots of text, one-way


This week his efforts took several steps even farther backwards when his message showed up as a PDF newsletter-

formatted attachment.

We continue preaching “21st century” skills for kids while modeling methods from the 20th."

My response was basically: Cut the guy some slack.

Tim wants the new sup to be using more interactive tools: a blog, Twitter, a Facebook fan page, a podcast, or an infographic. (I'm just guessing here.) To be a model communicator with the latest and greatest tools.

Yet these "21st Century" tools have their limitations. Twitter assumes your message needs no more nuance or detail than what 140 characters can convey—and that your entire staff will "follow" you. The Facebook fan page is fine if your school doesn't block Facebook, you really don't want any feedback, and that your entire staff will "friend" you. Blogs, podcasts, or infographics are great communication tools provided they are supplemented by an additional communication method that allows readers to know they have been updated. I rather doubt all my staff regularly have or check RSS feed readers.

In our haste to be more interactive, we too often denigrate the power of pull technologies: the newsletter, the website, the magazine article, or book. But we also forget that if they are to be seen, they need to be accompanied by "push" efforts as well.

"Do you not only want to read the news that is important to you, but be able to do so as soon as it happens? 'Push' technologies used by programs like PointCast and Educast* are making this possible. After installing the software, the user selects what topics, news sources, and locales he or she wishes to have 'pushed' to his computerand how often. For a teacher with a direct network connection, this means having an up-to-the-minute, customized newspaper waiting on the classroom computer for use with the class."

Are the concepts "push" and "pull" still relevant? I think so.

If Tim's supervisor, the school public relations department, or the building librarian simply publishes a static document—a webpage or a blog post—he or she cannot depend on the intended audience taking the initiative (or remembering) to check the site for updates on a regular basis. Without a means of letting people know that new content has been published, the likelihood of people reading it is slim. But if the pull technology is supplemented by a "push" technology—an e-mail, a text message, a tweet, or an RSS feed—the audience knows new content has been added. My analogy has always been that going to the newsstand to get the paper is relying on "pull"; getting the paper delivered is using "push."

In some ways, Tim's superintendent sending an e-mail with a PDF attachment is an elegant solution. He gets the "push" of the e-mail to which on can respond as well but also the "pull" of formatted text that can convey a complex message that includes visuals. And modern web browsers even open PDF files automatically.

Just because it's old, doesn't mean it doesn't work.

Thank god.

*PointCast and Educast were the GoogleReader and Diigo for those of us who grew up playing with dinosaurs. (The name Educast seems to have been adopted by a number of more recent ventures and I don't seem to be able to find a link to a description of the real deal back in the mid-'90s.)

Doug Johnson has been director of media and technology for the Mankato (MN) Public Schools since 1991. His Blue Skunk Blog averages more than 50,000 visits a month, and his articles have appeared in more than 40 books and periodicals.