Push pull

I believe that for the web to reach its full potential, it will go through a massive re-architecture and re-platforming in the next decade. The current web is "pull-based", meaning we visit websites or download mobile applications. The future of the web is "push-based", meaning the web will be coming to us. In the next 10 years, we will witness a transformation from a pull-based web to a push-based web. When this "Big Reverse" is complete, the web will disappear into the background much like our electricity or water supply. We'll forget what 'www' stood for (which was kind of dumb to begin with). These are bold statements, I understand, but let me explain you why.

In the future, content, products and services will find you, rather than you having to find them. Puma will let us know to replace our shoes and Marriott will automatically present you room options if you missed your connecting flight. Instead of visiting a website, we will proactively be notified of what is relevant and asked to take action. The dominant function of the web is to let us know what is happening or what is relevant, rather than us having to find out.

Facebook and Flipboard are early examples of what such push-based experience looks like. Facebook "pushes" a stream of personalized information designed to tell you what is happening with your friends and family; you no longer have "pull" them and ask how they are doing. Flipboard changes how we consume content by aggregating the best of the web and filtering it based on our interests; it "pushes" the relevant and interesting content to you rather than you having to "pull" the news from multiple sources. Also consider the rise of notification-centric experiences; your smartphone's notification center provides you with a stream of relevant information that is pushed to you. More recently, these notifications have become interactive; you can check in for a flight without having to open your travel app. You can buy a product without having to visit their website.

What people really want is to tune into information rather than having to work to get information. It saves them time and effort and in the long run, an improved user experience always wins. In most cases, "Show me what I want" is more useful than "Let me search around and see what I can find".

With some imagination, it's not too hard to picture how these kind of experiences could expand to other areas of the web. The way the e-commerce works today is really no different than having to visit a lot of separate physical stores or wading through hundreds of products in a department store. We shouldn't have to work so hard to find what we want. In a push-based world, we would sit back as if we were watching a fashion show -- the clothing presented could come for hundreds of different online brands but the stream is "personalized" to our needs, budget, sizes and style preferences. When the Big Reverse is complete, it will be the end of department stores and malls. Keep an eye on personalized clothing services like Trunk Club or Stitch Fix.

Ten years from now we're going to look back and recognize that search-based content discovery was broken. Today the burden is put on the user to find relevant content either via directly typing in a URL or by crafting complex search queries. While pull-based experiences might not go away; push-based experiences will dominate as they will prove to be much more efficient.

Many of you won't like it (at first), but push will win over pull. Healthcare is going through a similar transformation from pull to push; instead of going to a doctor, we'll have web-enabled hardware and software that is able to self-diagnose. Wearables like activity trackers are just the start of decades of innovation and opportunity in healthcare. Helped by the web, education is also moving from pull to push. Why go to a classroom when personalized training can come to you?

We are at the beginning of a transition bridging two distinctly different types of economies. First, a "push economy" that tries to anticipate consumer demand, creates standardized or generic products in large amounts, and "pushes" them into the market via global distribution channels and marketing. Now, a "pull economy" that—rather than creating standardized products—will create highly customized products and services produced on-demand and delivered to consumers through one-on-one relationships and truly personal experiences.

This new paradigm could be a very dramatic shift that disrupts many existing business models; advertising, search engines, app stores, online and offline retailers, and much more. For middlemen like online retailers or search engines, the push-based means they risk being disintermediated as the distribution chain becomes less useful. It marks a powerful transformation that dematerializes and de-monetizes much of the current web. While this might complicate the lives of many organizations, it will undoubtedly simplify and better the lives of consumers everywhere.


Heather (not verified):

I miss the agency of curation and selecting, at least you *feel* like you have choices, even if, more and more the web is "tailored to your tastes." I also miss the randomness of the internet, of being confronted with differing opinions and content. I notice twitter tweaking my feed. I think I'm at least still seeing all the updates from people I follow, but I notice them slicing in replies to popular tweets. I don't need to see that.

Pinterest is an example of losing agency at the cost of losing the plot entirely. Recently, they started "suggesting pins" for users, now they "suggest boards". The suggested pins are mixed in with the flow of content by pinners you follow and it's difficult to distinguish, except the pins are sometimes a little "off". I linked to a tweet I posted about this, and actually the only criticism seems to be that they haven't quite got it right.

I'm sure their algorithms could be improved, but I don't know why they do it in the first place. Sure - got ahead and find pins for me. And while you're at it, why don't you just pin the pins for me then? Why do I pin at all? Why am I even using Pinterest? By selecting pins for me, they ruin the whole point of the service to begin with.

There are probably better matches for this type of push service, but I like the "pull" aspect of the internet. If Evernote started slipping notes into my notebooks without me asking, I'd chuck it out the window.

Andy Georges (not verified):

I think that allowing users to filter what they want to see pushed to them can help a long way there. For some things you might feel comfortable getting stuff suggested and for other things ... less so. Or they could push stuff to a separate stream, so you can check at your leisure what they think might interest you.

Michael Skok (not verified):

Outstanding thought leadership as usual Dries.

Makes so much sense and provides a great opportunity for Drupal to provide the underlying repository and platform to serve actionable content in the right sized notifications and forms that will arm users and even devices.

Michael Miles (not verified):


I agree with your synopsis that in the next decade or so we will see a transformation on how we interact with the web, from pushing to pulling. I've actually just finished reading a book which touches on this subject. "The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains" by Nicholas Carr. In his book Nicholas explains that just how the printing press altered the way we stored and retrieved information, so is the internet.

With every bit of information available at our fingertips (and the growth of technology to deliver us that information before we know we want it) the way our brains process and store information is rapidly changing. Our brains are altering into a state where they demand a constant input of information, which as soon as it is processed it is released (a transition of more short term memory instead of long term).

It will be interesting to see how these changes alter how we interact with the web and information. People will no longer have the ability to sit and focus on a page long blog post, multi-step e-commerce checkouts, waiting for test results, etc.. Our brains will demand that information short, quick and instant and as much of it as possible. As the way consumers demands for information changes, businesses will have to adapt or be lost to the history books (err.. tweets).

Sam Lerner (not verified):

This article makes even more sense if you replace all occurrences of the word "web" with "concierge". We will leave behind things like a "web browser" and "address bar" and replace it with a computerized assistant that uses the web as an information backend to be a helpful life companion.

And I for one welcome our future robot butlers.

William R. Dickson (not verified):

Push was supposed to be the big thing in the mid-to-late 90's, not long after The Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh (and later for Windows) brought SLIP and PPP to the masses. It pretty much fizzled back then. Do you think the difference now is simply improvements in the technology?

Henry Eagar (not verified):

That's exactly what I thought, other than using Facebook as an example this article could have been written in 1994.

But the push revolution eventually happened, unfortunately it ended up being just Ads. Tailored and relevant to you, and managed through big data aggregation affiliate networks, but just ads.

The other thing we do get pushed at us is News, but it turns out it's what TV, magazines, and Newspapers already did so it's not really that revolutionary.
RSS readers was about as good as push news got, and they were great, but they pretty much died; RIP Google Reader.

The concierge concept has also been kicking around (and linked to push) since before the Internet, we just have not had the "AI" or big data to make it work yet, it keeps turning out to be just more ads because that's the only way to monetize it, and that's where the big data is.

The hope for a diffrent today, or tomorrow is 2 fold.
A) Smartphones
B) Big Data
Both have been assumptions of the concierge concept since day one, and it may eventually work.

Right now it's practical when we are engaged in predictable activities.
My phone tells me the weather, and Google Now tries to tell me about traffic and Mass transit. Though it has not yet managed to let me know to take a different subway or leave 10 minutes early yet :(
Airlines know where you are and where you are going and travel apps are getting common, subscribing to updates on flights and delays is great. (though again only partly successful so far in my experience.)
But I can tell you that all of that was included in the future of push demos I was involved with in 1994, and it's still on the horizon.

There are some apps on my phone that are sending me data I want.
Disney uses it's data to let you know where the crowds at the park are NOT.
Amazon let's me know when my packages ship and arrive.
GPS loggers tell us when our kids get home from school.

It's a technological service that's looked ripe for the picking before. But so far it's turned out sour.

Adam Bergstein (not verified):

This is all driven around good data. Pushing just any data to the consumer would be viewed as a major annoyance if it's not relevant and timely.

Ed Carlevale (not verified):

I think you're right and it's an extraordinarily unsettling prospect. Mike doesn't comment on how depressing Nicholas Carr thinks all this is. He calls us sharecroppers. But I think another transformation will happen that will rival what you describe here. The quality of the information will improve. Twitter and Facebook dominate because they make it so easy to contribute content, and because of their staggering size that information simply becomes a demographics tool. Facebook and Twitter are the stone tablets of our day. In time websites will gain the subtlety and ease of paper and pen and books, and content will make a resurgence.

Stéphane Corlosquet (not verified):

At first this sounded very scary to me: "In the future, content, products and services will find you, rather than you having to find them." Translated into the physical world, it's like saying sales people would come to your door pretending to know what you need to buy, and this is not far from reality.

Your post reminds me of all the junk mail I find every day in my mailbox. The weekly job offers that praise my resume for skills I don't even have. So if you ask me, we already have the push web today! But it is utterly broken to the point where we need tools like spam filters and ads blockers to protect ourselves from it.

The challenge is to manage to leave those unsolicited notifications at bay, and avoid the so-called push-web to inflict an information overload to our brains.

I'm all for a Big Reverse for the web provided those pushes are smart and controlled. I was psyched when Github started to integrate with schema.org and gmail. DropBox and others do it as well, where you can for example accept a DropBox invite from Gmail. Ditto for accepting calendar invites. I love that Google Now can remind me that I have to leave soon to make it on time to the airport to pick up my relative.

I think for this revolution to happen, we first need accurate data about people interests to be matched against services, products or things in general. Dirty data is only going to give you very poor results when it comes to personalization (either very generic, useless or inaccurate). That's why I think tools like schema.org and Linked Data are so crucial for the web to reach its next level, and that's what Google is pursuing with its Knowledge Graph which powers tools like Google Now.open

Peter Crawshaw (not verified):

While there is a strong element of inevitability here ... it will be a sad loss of 'serendipitous discovery' that us random, unreliable humans are so good at and actually rather enjoy when it happens. I know from personal experience the human side of things gives our business lovereading.co.uk a real USP over big boys like Amazon. So, a request to the algorythm programmers (if they are still people) ... keep a bit of 'fuzziness' in there.

Chris ODonnell (not verified):

Push is being pushed because it puts the content producers and advertisers back in the drivers seat. They pine for the day when consumers sat idly in front of the TV, with no choice but to watch the commercials, because Tivo hadn't been invented yet. Although things like Google Now giving a traffic update as I walk out the door every morning is useful, the quest to monetize the pushed content is going to ruin the user experience. I can see it now...your iWatch pings you with a note that it has detected a critical health anomaly, which it will share with you after this message from Bayer. I can hardly wait.

Josh Waihi (not verified):

Stéphane has a point, just because it will be easier for business to target us in future, does it mean that we'll want to be targeted? Or will future also provide revolutions in spam protection and privacy tools to prevent the push getting to you?

I think humanity like the to discover and to some extend, having everything pushed to you would leave you somewhat meaningless.

I certainly prefer to look up "home made wind mills" at 3am rather than being woken up then with DIY kit set wind mill packages.

chx (not verified):

I will obviously need to eat my words in ten years but I seriously doubt. Yesterday I tried to search on weight on eBags -- you can't. There are other luggage sites where actually can search on weight but the selection is small. There are tons and tons of small luggage makers that you can only buy on their on web site. Theoretically this all can come together but we had this promise before with the semantic web and it simply didn't happen. I just can't see how suddenly everyone will come together in a "here's the luggage you are looking for".

Also, data is imprecise. If the real world would work that way... but no. The backpack advertised as 23*13 can't fit even a 21.5*13 rectangle. It's pretty much like the criticism for OOP: the real world refuses to be put in pretty categories.

So while this vision is certainly an alluring one, I can't see it working.

In other words, if I miss a flight why would I want to stay in an expensive Marriott in the terminal when the inn a shuttle away is third the price and can give me a quick shut eye just as well? If it costs money to reach my push feed, the inn probably can't afford doing that.

Mike Lamb (not verified):

We're moving from asking questions and our devices / services answering them for us, to our devices / services knowing so much about us and our context that they provide the answer before we even know to ask the question. As you say, it's already happening all over the place.

Jacob Singh (not verified):

Clearly it is happening and will happen more. So waxing philosophical about what once was isn't going to help much.

The reason I think it is inevitable is that the volumes are huge. In reality, search engines have always been "push" in the same way you talked about facebook, they are selecting only a subset of the web, it's becoming more personalized, but it was never "searching the whole, pure web". Cultivation, rather than distribution is the key feature of internet companies today.

All that being said. It's pretty scary and sad for me. Are all algorithms going to be there to create echo chambers where our sense of self and "our" community gets more an more narrow and efficient or will there be algorithms whose goal is specifically to challenge and increase my sphere of interest and influence among the non-converted?

Hans van den Berk (not verified):

Interesting thoughts. I wonder how this works out for democracy and governments. Because voters are supposed to inform themselves and make an independent judgement. Somehow this does not seem to play nicely with push technology serving tailormade and pre-cooked opinions. Facebook keeps overruling my timeline, for instance, where I simply want it to be chronological. The Algorithm should not be Allmighty :o)

Anthony Liekens (not verified):

Unfortunately, the term "push" isn't a very positive one. For me, it is closer in meaning to "spam". I prefer the term "notify" instead of "push" as it expresses a more friendly vibe than "push". You also use "notification" or variations thereof in your post and I have noted that these sentences sound more positive/constructive/optimistic.

Also, if used in the combination "subscribe/notify" it becomes a replacement of the "request/response" dogma and puts the consumer in control over what he/she is being notified of, and for "push" not to become confused with "spam".

FMB (not verified):

According to your blog post humans are supposed to behave just like force-fed geese. Mankind and the Web are worth much more than this delirious and obtuse totalitarian marketing vision.


Anthony is absolutely right. Push does not equal force-feeding. Push requires people to subscribe or opt in to the information streams, like is the case for Facebook and Flipboard, and can often allow them to fine-tune these streams.

Stijn Vogels (not verified):

The opposite could be said for television: what used to be push ("you watch what we schedule") has become mostly pull ("I decide what to watch, when I want, where I want").

Wouter Lagauw (not verified):

Good and valid point, but still on demand television services want to "push" content based on what your "watch history" teaches them. Customers are the initiators, but afterwards the application guides you / pushes you towards content chosen based on your profile.

Josh (not verified):

This is a false dichotomy. With Facebook, I still "pull" to see what's in my stream. When I go to the department store, they're "pushing" information about what their other customers (who presumably share my interests) are purchasing.

There's absolutely nothing innovative about Trunk Club. "Personal stylists" have existed for millennia. Only the hubris of the modern technocracy allows us to delude ourselves into thinking we're participating in some sort of "revolution."

PS: Calling Tim Berners-Lee (an actual revolutionary) "dumb" and then going on to describe yourself (some guy who wrote a PHP app) as "bold" is not a good way to get your point across.

Joe S. (not verified):

Music has been on the forefront of this push trend. Like many people I have a huge music library, but I almost never "pull" from it anymore. It is much simpler to use music streaming services that push music to me based on my preferences.

Matt Rhys-Davies (not verified):

Fantastic article.

I initially resisted the push environments from Facebook, however I've adapted and grown accustomed to it. To the point that I prefer to receive a lot of my news this way; via the Guardian apps.

Jose Reyero (not verified):

That 'Big Reverse' sounds like Facebook will replace the full Web and that sounds like a horrifying future, really.

What I think is happening is that Facebook is actually replacing TV, not the Web.

So yes, future 'push' experiences, like today are TV and Newspapers will be delivered through Internet / The Web but maybe not at the expense of the rest of the Web. Which if you think of it is cool like Hey, we'll have a TV where we can click away to actually 'pull' interesting content.

Really, I think / I hope, actually quite the opposite is happening. The pull model is here to stay, and it will fully replace the current 'push only' channels.

Romain J. (not verified):

I totally agree on the web reversing. My fear is that it only works if the machine knows you in order to suit your needs. Some intelligence is required in order to "guess" for you. So you need to give personnalized informations on which a machine can extract relevant content for you. Let´s hope that´s not only to sell you something but to give some kind of service.

Bryan Ruby (not verified):

I believe that for the web to reach its full potential, it will go through a massive re-architecture and re-platforming in the next decade. The current web is "pull-based", meaning we visit websites or download mobile applications. The future of the web is "push-based", meaning the web will be coming to us.

So where we once dreamed of a world wide web allowing for a whole world to be discovered and instead all we end up with is smarter television? Count me out, although I don't doubt marketers, merchants, and politicians would prefer a "push" only world.

I think though Dries you're absolutely right, the web is likely going to go through a massive re-architecture and re-platforming in the next decade. It's an exciting time ahead for both visionaries and technicians as this evolves. I just don't think "pull" or "push" will dominate the other, both will have to coexist because human behavior simply dictates the need for both.

L. Cosmo (not verified):

"Big Reverse" sounds like "Big Direct Marketing" to me, and the effort would be transferred to curating what your profile suggests you need as against looking for what you want. The future would be one big filtered inbox full of "Big Spam" or "Big Phishing". No thanks! I hope this "Big Reverse" never happens.

Adrian Webb (not verified):

I think this article oversimplifies the future down to a choice between pull and push, in which push is predicted to eclipse the pull oriented nature of the web. I definitely see the growth potential in pushing data to consumers but this trend is really nothing new and has been on peoples minds for a long time (think RSS feeds). Organizations will continue to innovate in this space but this will really just augment the pull nature of the information. I really do not believe people are going to want to give up their control over what they consume (pull) and leave that to the marketing departments looking solely to make a buck. No, pull isn't going anywhere. It will just be augmented more and more by push technology.

I do agree that a radical shift is taking place and will continue to help shape the web, but I believe that has to do more with strategic integration of services and the growth of the middleman. In essence, information silos will continue to disappear. In a push oriented web quality of what is being pushed is everything or the whole thing ends up like spam of old (which people do not like). No single service contains all of the information we desire which leaves a lot of opportunity for a new generation of curators and algorithm based aggregation services. In the future we will have fewer pull sources (those that fit our needs and that we trust) and those sources will probably not be content providers themselves. The real opportunity lies in being the nexus for information. I believe this will ultimately take two forms; dashboard style UIs where people can keep up to date with what is relevant to them, and aggregation services (integration APIs).

My point is pull isn't going anywhere because the fundamental nature of pull is what drove us to the web in the first place. But push will make what we want to know, on demand and in real time. Push and pull will find a happy equilibrium and that is what will truly make consumers life easier.

Luc Van Braekel (not verified):

I get a big "deja vu" feeling when I hear someone say that the web will evolve from "pull" to "push". More specifically, Microsoft tried to do it with Internet Explorer 4 (released in October 1997) through the "channel" concept. News organizations were cheering and hopeful, because with "push" they would be able to regain control of what internet users would read. But the channel mechanism never gained traction. I hope the future of the web will still be "pull" instead of push, but "pull" by automated agents on our devices knowing about our needs and interests, and not "push" by server-based processes owned by others.

Niki N (not verified):

I liked this post quite a bit. Not that it is that important, but it rarely happens these days of "push content". The "pull economy" standard term is "mass customization", as offered by Dell and many others for many years already. Though the level of "customization" and "on-demand" and speed of delivery are now more important than everything, yet until they become "not so important" again.

The interesting question here is where mass customization and "on-demand" will become too demanding to the customers/users of the product/service (you can of course think of 150 ways of ordering your donut, but this is kind of a boring exercise).

The push economy has its merits (and is strongly underpinned by the developing countries economies), not only because the economic side, but from a purely psychological perspective as well. FWIW and YMMV :)

Guy Horrocks (not verified):

Great post. As a company (Carnival Mobile) that works on 'pushing' content and messages to mobile app users, this is something we see a lot.

Early on, many people would ask if push notifications and mobile marketing automation is advertising? But it's usually the opposite of advertising. It's focused on what the user wants to be pushed from a customer service/value POV, rather than the previous approach of what the advertiser or brand wants to push the user.

Automation and personalization then becomes part of customer service, and ultimately that is your brand. Think when your flight is delayed and you get a push to say it will be 30mins late, or the gate has changed, or your bags are at carousel 2. Think Uber, or Delta or Starbucks etc. or even the promise behind Google Now... Definitely an interesting shift.

Anthony Pero (not verified):

I already live on a push-based web. Almost every piece of content I consume is pushed to me through either Google Now or Facebook, or via email. On the rare occasion that I go looking for something, I'm asking Google Now, and its filtering the results into what it's algorithms think I want.

And on the whole, I feel less informed because of it. My habits and predispositions inform the algorithms, and I'm shielded from news I don't want to hear and am not interested in. And while this may be more engaging for me as a consumer, its detrimental to me as a person. Reinforcing one's own viewpoint is rarely a good thing, and its inevitably what a consumer-based push curation (push) model brings.

Is this a bad thing? Not on its own. Not if we as a society are willing to put the time in to gather other view points. Not as long as a truly open web still exists and allows us to gather other viewpoints.

Chris Cawley (not verified):

It sounds like you're trying to over-engineer a concept that only applies to marketing. Technology is about simplification. The internet is simply about the free dissemination of information. "Push" based marketing is lagniappe we get from monetizing the collection of digital information. If you don't provide a platform that can clearly demonstrate your idea then I'm afraid this is just a vague attempt at soothsaying. "Push" based content could be extended as "useful" to other forms of a CMS maybe, but you'd really be stretching your imagination to reinvent the wheel when no one is asking you to.


The internet is much more than free dissemination of information. Push is about the simplification of the internet's user experience, even if that means the underlying technology gets more complex. I provided several examples in the blog post.

Bernd Burkert (not verified):

I my eyes push and pull are just different means of information retrieval, and I believe both shall survive in their own right. They serve different intents of the user (similar to searching vs browsing - on the web, or in the highstreet). Yes, tekkies know that event driven systems are better than polling systems, but we should'nt transfer this to human behavior. Humans have different needs during working hours and holidays, for example.

A real quantum leap for the web of the future would be to progress from hyperlinked information to hyperlinked functions. The web of things in combination with new user interaction paradigms (cards?) might already point to this direction.

An "up- or x-selling of functionality" could be based on a reasonable understanding of the user's actual intent, and provide an added value instead of just being intrusive.

Just my 0,02 €

Fred Barson (not verified):

Every comment I read above opposed the thesis of the article. I take that to mean that while search is frustrating and time- consuming, it's a lot less invasive than push. Ultimately, I think we continue to search because we treasure discovery. Push, I have to conclude, is more irritating, demeaning, and presumptuous than search is frustrating. Hence, I (and I think most Americans) will rue the defeat of search, especially if it's in favor of push as we know it.


While push can be invasive and irritating, it doesn't have to be. Spotify, Pandora, Flipboard, Facebook, Google Now, TripIt and Pinterest are all examples of push. When done right, push experiences disappear into the background.

Nicholas (not verified):

I agree that that there will be a shift, however, inbound marketing will survive. It won't happen anytime soon as it will take time to perfect it. People will still do research and won't like the feeling of being force fed for products. Price, reviews, reputation, value etc. will always be consideration39lhls. The challenge: how to be informative without being overbearing.

Events will be different.

Geofencing, ibeacons etc. will have their place but we have remember why the www was created in the first place. How do you think I found this article? You still will need "micro" and "macro".

Then there is the issue of privacy or potential abuse in a post Snowden world. Will this be affordable to small business our just for the big boys? Time will tell.

About Me: https://about.me/SEOLosAngeles

Alex Driesen (not verified):

So true and so full of impact. Massive opportunity and massively scary at the same time: Towards an "OS of US"?


To see an integration of Drupal 8 with Amazon Echo (Alexa) and push notifications, see https://dri.es/cross-channel-user-experiences-with-drupal. We included a demo video of a shopping experience where the customer doesn't have to use a website or browser, and where information is pushed to the user. It's a real-life example of The Big Reverse of the Web.