The little firm that made a big score

It's 10.30am and you don't even know who won the toss. You're sitting on an industrial-strength network, you have a permanent connection to the Internet, tons of Ram, CPU cycles to burn and a really cool mousepad - but all you really need is an AM radio and an earplug.

It's 10.30am and you don't even know who won the toss. You're sitting on an industrial-strength network, you have a permanent connection to the Internet, tons of Ram, CPU cycles to burn and a really cool mousepad - but all you really need is an AM radio and an earplug.

Office-ensconced cricket fans need to know - if they don't already - that ball-by-ball coverage of the test match which starts today in Hamilton is available on the Internet at http://kc.palmerston-north.co.nz/cricket/.

Indeed if this year's international cricket season is to be remembered for the fresh faces it brought to the fore - Daniel Vettori, Heath Davis, Matt Horne - it's only fair to include K.C. Multimedia, the little Web design firm from Palmerston North which has had a cracker of an innings.

What K.C. has done is create and maintain aWebsite which has offered ball-by-ball coverage of every international cricket match played here this summer. The information is provided in HTML form - but also in arguably the most effective implementation of ActiveX yet seen here.

The nationwide response, says K.C.'s managing director John Barlow, "has been great for us - for the guys from the country! It proves that we can foot it with the big boys."

The site began as a one-off project commissioned by the Palmerston North City Council to promote a match between the touring English side and an invitation team.

Barlow says the council request came at a time when his staff had been "playing around" with ActiveX for several months "and we thought it was time to push the boundaries a bit."

Working with another local company, Unlimited Realities, K.C. created a Website which not only promoted the match, but, using an ActiveX control, displayed its progress on two live graphs. Data was entered ball-by-ball, live from the ground, by local cricket buff Paul Brebner.

The idea worked so well that, says Barlow, "just to show off what we could do," the developers worked up another four graphs and provided the same live service for the test series against England. Brebner watched TV rather than setting up an Internet feed from every ground.

The site developed what Barlow describes as a "cult following" - and logs showed many visits during the day from the country's business centres - where workers often have permament Internet connections, but rarely have access to a TV or radio.

It was not surprising then, when the Bank of New Zealand agreed to sponsor the service just before the one-day series against England began. From there Barlow and his team showed the site to cricket officials.

"The thing about this sort of work is you start taking things for granted a bit," says Barlow. "And you're actually doing some great stuff, but then you look at it and think, well, we've done that, onto the next thing. But we showed the cricketing people and it completely blew them away. They couldn't believe it!

"The ActiveX generates the worms and the wagon wheels, and it actually shows player against player. All the bowlers can be lined up against any batsman and vice versa. You can look at partnerships, anything at all. We want to develop it a little further so we can prove beyond doubt whether someone bowls better around or over the wicket.

"The New Zealand selectors were really worried about anybody putting this information up. So what we said was that we wouldn't allow anybody at this stage to compare game against game. We'd only putting up one game at a time, until the start of the next game, and then remove it. That means you can only analyse the game in progress."

Microsoft New Zealand has also been impressed with K.C.'sActiveX work, according marketing manager Steve Jenkins.

"They got in touch with us about it and I emailed all our people to tell them that here was a really good local implementation of ActiveX," says Jenkins. "Then I discovered that one or two of them had known about it and been using it for weeks!

"We get the demos from corporate, but in some ways it's much more effective to be able to show people something like this."

Barlow says the lack of cross-platform compatibility (whatever Microsoft's protestations to the contrary) involved in using ActiveX was raised by the BNZ during sponsorship discussions.

"Realistically, and this is what I said when the BNZ asked about Macs on so on, is one of the reasons why we've been able to make this viable is because we're a small team and we're not in corporate offices, so our overheads are reasonable," he says.

"You develop that in Java and the New Zealand population's not big enough to support the effort - Java just takes so much longer than ActiveX. It's possible, but it's just not practical."

When the season ends, K.C.'s site will probably be remodelled into an official New Zealand Cricket Website. And Barlow already has his eye on other sports.

"This has used up quite a lot of our time, but it's been great, because we've proved you can do truly live sport - and we've developed the confidence to do it too. Every sport has potential. Something like rugby you'd have to change it a bit, from the actual game to the statistics.

"I guess TV has already educated us to some extent about stats - how many times the first-five kicks and that sort of thing - and Americans have been doing it for years. The thing is, it's all so compatible with the Internet.

"We do see it as a joint venture sort of thing - these are not the sort of things you can just go off and do by yourself. There are a lot of issues involved in terms of copyright and branding and that's why really the sports bodies have actually got to get on board. We've had full co-operation from New Zealand cricket since we contacted them - and really that's what you need.

"What we're doing is developing content for the Internet. And what we've shown with the amount of traffic we're getting is that people love it."

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