PlanetPortal Readies Print-to-Web Entry

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PlanetPortal hopes to take off within the burgeoning print-to-Web marketing space with its WebCard product, available this fall. However, at least one analyst feels this technology, and offerings like it, may never get off the ground.


Print-to-Web is defined as printed material that takes a consumer directly to a Web site. This is accomplished through the use of scanners, barcode readers and other devices.


PlanetPortal's WebCard is the latest entrant into the field. The WebCard is a credit card-sized item that a consumer swipes through proprietary hardware hooked up to his computer.


Existing print-to-Web companies include DigitalConvergence, which has barcode technology that can be read by its Cue CAT (Keystroke Automation Technology) device. DigitalConvergence's Cue CATs will be available for free at RadioShack stores this fall. The company plans to distribute more than 10 million free scanners by year-end and up to 60 million by the end of 2001.


Another competitor is Digimarc, whose technology places watermarks on print ads. A consumer can link to a special Web page if they run a print ad in front of a Webcam that has Digimarc software installed on it. Digimarc has agreements with six Webcam companies that will soon begin shipping products with its software pre-installed.


"Everybody is out there trying to make a product search that's more seamless, that's one step closer to the consumer's mind and pocketbook," said Alan Alper, an analyst at Gomez Advisors, Lincoln, MA.


Considering the newness of these products, it's difficult to say whether or not they will become as common as the CD player -- or as obscure as the 8-track. "A lot of folks are still unsure about these new types of technology. You have to change their behavior, thinking and process. Anytime you have to change that stuff, it's unclear and uncertain how [well the product will succeed]."


Also, companies may not jump at these products as there is "the chicken and the egg problem," Alper said. "Big companies, such as the consumer packaged goods manufacturers, won't get involved unless there's a lot of scale out there."


PlanetPortal is working to create hardware that will read its WebCards. It currently has its WebRemote Control in beta testing. The WebRemote Control attaches to a PC, enabling users to swipe WebCards as well as to access their favorite Web sites using one-click buttons like the ones found on keyboards from RocketBoard and eMachines.


The company has also just signed an agreement with Chicony, a keyboard manufacturer that plans to create keyboards with WebCard readers. Consumers can expect to see these new Internet-enabled keyboards by the end of the year.


The information stored on the WebCard takes the user directly to a client company's Web site, saving the consumer the time of typing its URL.


"Its analogous to when credit cards were first introduced -- when you had to physically input numbers into a machine. URLs still need to be manually [typed]," said Brent Kleinheksel, CEO of PlanetPortal, Research Triangle Park, NC. "The WebCard is tied into the well-known [action] of swiping a credit card. It's efficient. It allows for compulsive computing. No other mechanism today allows for that."


To date, Priceline.com, Proxicom Inc., The Wall Street Journal Interactive, Thomson Financial Services, giggo.com, CBS Sportsline and Googlegear.com have signed on with PlanetPortal.
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