The decision to use multimedia on your Web site should not be made lightly. The addition of media other than text and graphics may require users to have a specific browser, plug-in, computer system and a good data rate from their modem. Just having to download and install a plug-in will deter many users. Your audience will be restricted by the many factors involved in determining a users ability to access multimedia. When considering multimedia the major factors are: relevance, file size, and bandwidth. Donít alienate your audience by making them wait for material that is not useful or relevant to the content. Minimize frustration and wasted time by letting users know in advance what is required in terms of browser software, plug-ins and time. Provide the file size and the option to download the appropriate plug-in.
A Word about Plug-Ins
A plug-in is a piece of software designed to use or display a particular file format in the Web environment. It increases the functionality and interactivity of the Web environment allowing access to audio, video, animation and interactive material developed with authoring programs such as Director and Authorware. Plug-ins are downloaded from the Internet, installed on a users hard drive and activated by the Web browser. The drawback of the addition of multimedia is the typically large file sizes combined with inadequate bandwidth. In addition, many novice users find downloading and installing software from the Internet too intimidating to attempt.
A series of still GIF images may be used to build an animation. GIF animation programs are easy to use and many are available to download, free, from the Internet. The programs combine a series of individual GIFs into one file and provide timing, transparency and play options. The file size will be large because of the sum of the individual GIF files in the sequence. But, because the animation will begin to play before all the images are downloaded, the wait time should be acceptable.
It is particularly important that the animation added to a Web page not be distracting. It should add to the content and be meaningful. There is little doubt that an animation will be eye-catching. Be sure, however, that the animation does not become annoying in trying to absorb the other elements and content of the page.
Good compression, reasonable bandwidth requirements and maintained quality now make sound files practical for Web delivery. Any defects in the original source will be exaggerated once the audio has been digitized and compressed. Make sure, therefore, that all recordings are made with good equipment in an noise-free environment.
Video for the Web is highly compressed and viewed in small windows. It does not distinguish fine detail or effectively display motion. Keep this in mind and shoot video at medium to close range with restricted motion. Also, begin with the best quality video available. Digital processing and compression will only emphasize flaws in the quality of the original product. Although one must compromise video quality, there are still interesting and useful applications of video on the Web.