Q&A: .NET Alerts Service Delivers Instant Updates

On eBay, the .NET Alerts service provides instant notification when an auction ends or users are outbid on an item.

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 8, 2001 — Todays rollout of the Microsoft .NET Alerts preview promises an improved Internet experience for consumers and businesses. The .NET Alerts service is already live on eBay ( http://www.ebay.com ) — the online auction site that boasts 34 million registered users, and one of more than 20 providers who are planning to deploy .NET Alerts to their users. What, exactly, is .NET Alerts, and how does this new Web service fit into Microsofts overall .NET offering? PressPass spoke with Christopher Payne, vice president of the Microsoft .NET My Services Platform.

PressPass: What is .NET Alerts and how does it work?

Payne: The .NET Alerts service delivers instant, on-screen notification of an event that someone considers important and that might require action. Its a new technology, based on our .NET platform, that makes it easy for people to get personalized alerts at their request. It works by enabling a Web site to send simple XML messages to the .NET Alerts service. This service then intelligently routes the message to a persons desktop computer, cell phone, mobile device or e-mail address, based on his or her preferences and presence.

PressPass: Why did Microsoft develop .NET Alerts, and how does it fit in with the companys business strategy?

Payne: Delivering the technology for .NET Alerts demonstrates Microsofts commitment to design next-generation solutions in the Web-services space for businesses and consumers. The .NET Alerts service is another step on the path to .NET My Services, formerly codenamed
.NET My Services makes the technology in peoples lives work better on their behalf and under their control, and helps software developers build solutions that work together transparently over the Internet to foster a more consistent and compelling user experience.

PressPass: Who benefits from .NET Alerts — businesses or consumers?

Payne: Both. The.NET Alerts service delivers the information consumers want — and only the information they want — when and where they want it, so they can act on it quickly and easily. Theres no doubt in our minds that this will enhance a persons overall Internet experience. The .NET Alerts service also offers the business community a powerful tool for building closer relationships with consumers. With 36 million MSN Messenger users today, businesses can be assured that there is a large base of users who are ready to receive alerts today. The extensive provider support we announced today makes it clear that this community recognizes the business value of deploying .NET Alerts.

PressPass: How many MSN Messenger users can receive .NET Alerts today? Will the user need to upgrade?

Payne: First off, .NET Alerts is an opt-in service, so users must first sign up to receive alerts. MSN Messenger users who choose to subscribe to .NET Alerts will find that the clickable pop-up messages are much like the pop-up boxes that notify them when someone on their contact list is online. We developed the .NET Alerts service to deliver notifications to consumers using a range of operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows XP and the Apple Macintosh. When Microsoft officially releases Windows XP on Oct. 25, businesses will have more opportunity to interact with customers by means of .NET Alerts. Windows XP has an ad-free Messenger client built in, so users can get the benefits of instant messaging and .NET Alerts without having to download software.

PressPass: What sorts of things can users be alerted to with .NET Alerts?

Payne: Since eBay is already making .NET Alerts available to its members, lets use it as an example. If youre an eBay member, you could ask to be notified via .NET Alerts — to your desktop, e-mail inbox, PDA or cell phone, depending on your preferences — when you have been outbid and when an auction has ended. When alerted that you have been outbid, you could then act on the .NET Alert by submitting a new bid — immediately, if you wanted — before the auction closed.

We think consumers will find .NET Alerts appealing in other applications, as well. For example, they can confirm online stock trades or get informed of a change in their stock portfolio. Consumers could also request .NET Alerts to notify them of the shipping status of merchandise they’ve ordered online, to keep tabs on sports scores or local weather forecasts, to be alerted to product sales and promotions, or to receive updated traffic alerts or virus warnings. In a completely different scenario, parents could request a .NET Alert to confirm their childs safe arrival at daycare. A .NET Alert service could even intelligently route a high-priority message about a child becoming ill at school to all of a parents devices. Were certain to see a host of other intriguing alert possibilities that we cant even imagine today.

PressPass: What are the implications for developers who want to build support for alerts into their applications?

Payne: From the developer perspective, a provider can implement a single system to reach a broad range of .NET Alerts clients, from PCs to PDAs to smart phones. Plus, any effort that developers invest in .NET Alerts will migrate easily to .NET My Services because the fundamental underlying technologies of both are the same — XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). Because .NET Alerts was designed as an XML Web service, other applications can interface with the application over the Internet using these industry standards. Microsoft will facilitate development further by discussing .NET Alerts and .NET My Services in detail at the upcoming Professional Developers Conference (PDC) (, from Oct. 22-26 in Los Angeles). We also plan to make a free .NET Alerts Developer Edition available later this year, along with an online test environment that simulates the live service so providers can debug their applications prior to public launch.

PressPass: How will MSN services like MSN CarPoint, CNBC on MSN Money, and MSN Calendar support .NET Alerts?

Payne: MSN properties have already rolled out some great .NET Alerts services users can choose from. MSN CarPoint is already offering traffic alerts, so users can be notified of traffic accidents or road closures, and can plan accordingly to take an alternate route. CNBC on MSN Money is offering .NET Alerts on stocks that people track; they can set a certain percent change, up or down, that they want to be notified about, and then they can act on the information. And MSN Calendar lets users set up reminders on certain appointments that are sent as a .NET Alert, so they dont miss important engagements.

PressPass: How are alerts delivered to e-mail or to a mobile device when a user is not online with MSN Messenger, or has chosen not to use MSN Messenger at all?

Payne: While it provides a compelling user experience, a Messenger client is not required to receive alerts. A user can choose to simply have alerts directed to an e-mail inbox or mobile device instead. So consumers can receive .NET Alerts via any e-mail client, for example, AOL mail, MSN, Microsoft Outlook, IBM-Lotus Notes, MCI Mail, and so on. And they can receive .NET Alerts on any device that currently supports MSN Mobile, such as Web-enabled mobile phones and other PDA devices, including alpha pagers, Pocket PCs and Handspring or Palm operating system-based handheld computers.

PressPass: What security and privacy measures has Microsoft put in place with regard to .NET Alerts?

Payne: To ensure that users have a secure online experience with maximum privacy protection, Microsoft maintains only the minimum information about a users .NET Alerts preferences required to deliver the .NET Alerts experience. Authentication information contained in the .NET Alerts message is encrypted using the secure MD5 protocol. Microsoft does not mine, sell or share any .NET Alerts data.

PressPass: Do users have to pay for the delivery of .NET Alerts?

Payne : The .NET Alerts service does not charge the user for the delivery of alerts. Of course, as users receive alerts when online with a Messenger client, in an e-mail inbox, and on a mobile device, the user may incur charges from an Internet service provider, wireless carrier, or some other third party that is involved in the delivery of an alert. Those fees are dependent on the arrangement the user has with the company involved.

PressPass: Is there any limit to the number of providers that a subscriber can get .NET Alerts from?

Payne: .NET Alerts subscribers can sign-up for alerts from as many providers as they want, and we have several partner providers that will be coming out with some very compelling .NET Alerts services in the near future that consumers will want to try-out. This is just the beginning.

PressPass: You mentioned this is a preview. When will .NET Alerts be available?

Payne: Consumers can start using all of the features of .NET Alerts today. eBay, MSN Carpoint, MSN Money, and MSN Calendar have already gone live with .NET Alerts, and have created some very cool applications. On top of that, another 19 sites plan to implement .NET Alerts within six months. This is a preview because when fully released, the .NET Alerts service will be open to all businesses — not just to our early adopters.

Our goal is to create opportunities for developers and site operators to deliver outstanding experiences to their customers. Towards that goal we will be unveiling the .NET Alerts Developer Edition at the PDC. It will be have tools and documentations, and will be freely downloadable by the end of this year so that all sites will have the information they need to adopt .NET Alerts on whatever platform their site runs on.

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