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The folowing is a WebPromote newsletter article - MULTIMEDIA IN WEB MARKETING - written by Erich Spencer, and reproduced with Erichs permission. Every web page designer should read it.

When designing your own web pages or more importantly, pages for a business presentation or promotion, take into account the points raised by Erich. Visitors lost and distractions / problems caused by "you beaut" pages taking ages to download are mentioned often through out these tutorials. If you want to understand anything about marketing, read this article and remember it well.

Erich wrote:

If you've spent any time at all browsing the web then you've experienced it. Clicking innocently on a link triggers an interminable wait for a beefy file you didn't realize was coming. Next, you trip over "would you like to get the plug-in?" Sure. So while getting the plug-in you realize you actually need to install it, adding another five anxious minutes to the already irritating ten you spent waiting for the beast to download on your 33.6Kbps, but effective 20.2Kbps, dial-up connection. Frustrated yet? Well the machine is, as it seizes in mid-install. Calm down, c-a-l-m d-o-w-n, just relax for those fifteen to twenty minutes while the machine re-boots, and try to recall that wickedly long URL.

This common scenario demonstrates that using multimedia on your web site should be given careful consideration. For the purposes of this discussion, any media type other than an inline JPEG or GIF should be considered multimedia to the web browser. There are basically five primary categories of media: Video, Audio, Application, Graphics, and the one that we often ignore as a media type, Text.

In most cases, the Internet is an inexpensive delivery channel and the web browser is an exciting platform to communicate through. The tools to create all the above mentioned digital media types are abundant and many are freely available. Still, trying to stuff all or many of these media types into a single browser view at the same time does not yield a positive 'multimedia experience' for the user. The ability to predict the behavior of your delivery and playback environment simply doesn't exist on the public Internet. In fact, reliably synchronizing media elements for a web browser with any degree of accuracy still eludes even the best developers, unless the user's environment can be specified and controlled, such as is often the case with Intranets and some off the latest technological targeting tools.

To correctly manage your audience's expectations about your site, strive to make a clear distinction between two concepts: communicating and showcasing. If your intent is to communicate a message, then two fundamental questions need to be answered: will the use of multimedia enhance the intended audience's understanding of the key message you wish to communicate, and, more importantly, can the message be effectively delivered without the use of multimedia? If the answer is 'Yes' and 'No' to the above questions, then the use of multimedia is strongly indicated. If the answer is 'Yes' and 'Yes,' then one needs to carefully consider what added value the use of multimedia delivers to the audience and what the cost to both the marketer and the audience will be for delivering and receiving.

Avoid relying on plug-ins unless you have valid data that your audience has already installed the required ones. Respecting your audience's time will reinforce your message more effectively. If you don't have reliable data, then offer alternatives. Maybe the text only version, or the version with text and animated GIFs. The Yale World Wide Web Style Manual adds, 'be sure to inform the user that they are entering a high-bandwidth area, and provide them with the tools they need to control their experience once in the area.' Frustrating your audience through an all or nothing proposition will negate any good that the multimedia might have delivered. Anticipate your audience's expectations. Don't ask them to make a choice if you can lead them instead. As the marketer, you must drive the message if you want to predict its impact.

Using Java for multimedia is a misunderstanding of the power of Java and the demands it requires of the host. Besides that, there are still Web Browser compatibility issues based on version and platform. Java doesn't run in a 16-bit environment like Windows 3.11, which still exists in widespread use across corporate America.

Explore the use of JavaScript and DHTML, instead. Together with the Stylesheet specification, you have the fundamental tools to develop highly interactive experiences within the browser without demanding bandwidth or plug-ins. You can dynamically present words and pictures based on the visitor's input or mouse movement. Be careful though, DHTML is not yet fully supported by Netscape Communicator, and does not work in any browser versions older than 4.0. And, JavaScript does not behave uniformly or predictably in Internet Explorer 3.0 or older. Remember that employing multimedia does not equate to interactivity. But, interactivity equates to greater value, because you empower your visitor. If you must distribute multimedia which relies on a plug-in, then dynamically identify whether the required plug-in exists and steer your audience clear of the impending results or present them with carefully thought out alternatives.

Erich Spencer is the New Media Director of Gr8, an Integrated Communication firm in Baltimore, Maryland.
He can be reached via email to erich@gr8.com.

Surveys show that even animated GIFs flashing quickly on the screen have a detrimental effect on a large number of people, to a point where pages are skipped before the information that those pages hold is taken in by the reader. Also, switching off graphics and applets is a very common option used on the Internet. - Ron Woolley

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