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Emerging categories: fax publishing.

A year ago (Soft-letter, 10/1/88), we advanced the mildly controversial proposition that fax machines would soon inspire a new round of innovative software applications. It turns out that one such application--a category we'll call "interactive fax publishing"--is already beginning to make an appearance. In the last few weeks, two companies have rolled out examples of fax publishing applications; more are bound to follow.

From a software perspective, the most interesting fax publishing product we've seen is Copia International's FaxFacts, a package that allows fax users to dial into a central document library, select items off a menu (specialized publications and reports, spec sheets, diagrams and clip art, office forms, etc.), and immediately receive copies back on their own fax machines. Copia president Steve Hersee says he's working with the Programmer's Shop on a pilot application--due to be unveiled at Comdex in November--that will allow Programmer's shop mail order customers to use their fax machines to download bingo card sales literature and spec sheets for up to 1,200 different products.

Hersee points out that the FaxFacts system is fully automated and works through a single two-way call placed through a standard fax phone connection. In effect, FaxFacts turns a fax machine into an interactive, on-demand publishing system that can retrieve documents that are physically located virtually anywhere a telephone line can reach--a technology that eventually could look a lot like a paper-based version of John Sculley's Knowledge Navigator.

Hersee is convinced that fax-based publishing will spread rapidly because it satisfies a craving for "instant gratification" among users. "Federal Express gave us our first dose of immediacy. This is just the next stage. I've noticed that whenever people sit around and mull over the possibilities of FaxFacts, they get more excited."

Hersee concedes, however, that FaxFacts only provides part of a total fax-based publishing solution; would-be fax publishers still need better graphical tools for creating fax-ready documents that will look good enough to be distributed as sales collaterals and professional publications. "we're moving into a whole new realm of desktop publishing, where the image is created for 200 dpi fax output," says Hersee. "As soon as we get PostScript for fax--or something similar--the output will look really good. But right now, we need better tools for editing the images that FaxFacts users will want to send."

Which brings us to a second fax-based publishing product: Pinpoint Information Corp.'s Computer Focus, a daily newsletter that Pinpoint delivers overnight via fax to its subscribers. Like FaxFacts, Computer Focus offers an interactive environment that delivers highly personalized information to each recipient. However, Pinpoint's interaction with its subscribers is less automated: The newsletter's editors interview each subscriber to define areas of interest, then create key-word profiles that determine which news items will appear in an individual subscriber's newsletters. (Readers can also ask for fulltext supplements to most news items--though these requests have to be called in to the newsletter by voice phone.)

Computer Focus's editorial copy is still a bit fluffy, especially for a publication that costs $1,800 a year. But as an example of fax-generated graphics, Computer Focus is a fascinating demonstration. The typography is easily readable, boxes and rules are clean, and gray screens print smoothly and without blotches. Pinpoint president Harvey Golomb says his newsletter's graphics are the result of proprietary, hard-coded techniques, so other would-be fax publishers may not get equal results without investing a fair amount of effort. Nevertheless, Pinpoint's newsletter demonstrates that fax print quality can come within striking distance of the output standard established by 300 dpi laser printers. If enough graphics developers jump on this bandwagon--and we think they will--interactive fax could be one of the hottest developments ever in the whole history of desktop publishing.
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Copia International's FaxFacts software and Pinpoint Information's Computer Focus newsletter
Article Type:product announcement
Date:Aug 15, 1989
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