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MULTI-MEDIA, NEW MEDIA AND YOUR WEB SITE

Over the years a number of my clients have requested audio, video and
other multi-media to spice up their Web sites. My feeling had always been
that the average visitor to their site didn’t have the patience for these
huge files to download. That their visitors were looking for a clean,
attractive site where they could quickly find the information they were
looking for. That developing huge multi-media files was best left to the
major entertainment companies and adult Web sites that charged per-minute
fees.

However, recent changes have made me reconsider this position.
Mainly, I’ve sunk a freaking lot of time and money into a wide
variety of multi-media authoring platforms. So I can say without
bias that you all need these options on your Web sites…immediately.

Well, maybe a little bias.

The truth is, things are changing. More and more people have
faster access to the Internet, whether it’s cable modems, DSL
(Digital Subscriber Lines,) or LANs (Local Access Networks) at
the workplace. Computers are also getting more powerful; new
models ship with 400MHz processors and up to better handle these
large files once they reach our homes. The Phantom Menace trailer
was downloaded over 23 million times and counting with most people
choosing to download the highest-quality version at around 25MB.

Does this mean that you all need to add Flash movies or MP3
songs to your Web sites? Of course not. Just because you can
do something doesn’t mean you should. What it does mean is that
you can add some audio or video to your sites–when appropriate–and
not turn off visitors.

For example, a Web site for a professional speaker might include
testimonial letters and the topics she speaks on. Adding some
flashy graphic to her site that does cool things with the letters
in her name probably won’t increase her business. It might even
turn off prospective organizations for tres gauche. However,
adding a video clip of a speech she gave may give a decision-maker
the information he needs to choose her over someone else. That
video clip would be configured so that it would only download
if requested; not everyone will have the need or the desire to
view the file.

There are just too many multi-media options to mention every
one here, nor is there time to get into any one in great depth.
The purpose of this column is to touch on a few of the platforms
that are most prevalent on the Web today.

All of these multi-media and new media options need some sort
of plug-in or player to work in someone’s browser. In other words:
No Player, No Play. However, all the players are free and you
can create links to the free downloads on your site.

QuickTime Movies and QTVR

I’m grouping these two items together
because they require the same player, the QuickTime Player.
(Seems like an obvious name, doesn’t it? However, until the most
recent release, the movie player for QuickTime movies was called…Movie
Player.)

QuickTime (QT) Movies are standard movies that play within the
QT Player. Many movie trailers are delivered via QT. The reason
why The Phantom Menace is only available via QT instead of RealPlayer
or Windows Media Player is because of Lucas Arts’ focus on quality;
none of the other platforms provide the quality that QT delivers.

QTVR, or QuickTime Virtual Reality takes two forms. The first
is a QTVR Panorama. When you come upon these panoramas on the
Web they appear to be simple photographs. But by clicking and
dragging your mouse within the photograph you can change the
direction of your view 360 degrees! You can also look up, down,
and zoom in or out. A panorama is also known as a “node”.
Different “nodes” can be linked together so you could
give a visitor a full tour of a new house, a museum, a ballpark
or any three-dimensional space. Ambient sounds can also be added
so that different sound effects or tracks can be heard depending
on the direction a visitor is “facing.”

The other form of QTVR is called an Object Movie. Instead of
spinning around on a node, an object movie gives many perspectives
on one object. A visitor to your site can “pick up” an
object and turn it around in their hands. Different versions
of this Object Movie can be stitched together so that when a
visitor is rotating an Object Movie of a model car in their browser
the trunk and hood might open or the headlights turn on and off.

RealPlayer

RealPlayer plays both streaming audio and video over
the Web. “Streaming” media
refers to media files that begin to play before they fully download
by using a buffer. Personally, I feel the video component is
currently below acceptable standards; it’s the size of a stamp
and often the image is so murky as to make it impossible to see
what’s going on. While the audio is nowhere near the quality
of MP3 files–the current choice of college students trading
pirated music–it’s ubiquitous nature gives it a leg up on the
competition. If you want to share audio files with your visitors
RealPlayer may be for you.

Flash Movies

Flash is a product by Macromedia, a company that
creates a number of products for graphic designers and Web
developers. It manipulates vector graphics which are often much
smaller (in byte size) than traditional bitmapped graphics for
quicker download over the Web. It also allows for a much more
interactive experience for your visitors. Entire sites can be
built using Flash technology or it can be used in smaller doses
to add, well, flash to a site. By visiting http://www.flytemedia.com
you can see a small Flash Movie [Defunct] for flyte new media
and/or download the Flash Movie Player if you don’t have it.
Graphic designers who are looking to add some spark to their
sites should really take a closer look at this technology.

Adobe Acrobat

Although the Web is fairly “cross-platform” inconsistencies
do exist. Also, different browsers and computer settings can
change the way a Web page or other document is seen by prospective
clients. If you have forms you want people to be able to view,
download and print, but you’re concerned about how they are going
to look once they get to that person’s computer, Adobe Acrobat
could be your answer.

Acrobat can convert any document to a PDF file (Adobe’s Portable
Document Format) which is cross-platform. Anybody with the free
Acrobat reader will be able to view or print your document as
it was intended. Simple brochures and entire software manuals
are moved across the Internet using this format. Chances are
you already have the reader on your computer.

Multi-media can enhance a Web site when used correctly and strengthen
the message you’re trying to get across. The trick is in choosing
the right format to best present your material and using it judiciously.

–Rich Brooks

President, flyte new media

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