Using Multimedia to Create Presentations for the Web

Multimedia Presentations

How can multimedia be used to create immersive presentations on a web site?

To be truly immersive, the content offered on a web page or application should offer the viewer as comprehensive an experience as possible, supplying many kinds of stimulating and engaging ‘windows’ into the subject being discussed.

The viewer should find either that their impulse to ‘find out more’ is anticipated and satisfied at every possible turn, ideally with more content that is integrated into the page, or that their attention is so completely held by the content (immersed in the experience) that they wish to linger a while longer learning about the subject.

If the subject happens to be you and your business, then you are well on the way to converting a viewer into a customer.

Multimedia in Education

Many education web sites and resources make full use of multimedia. Flash applications, often involving interactivity in various forms such as questionnaires, educational games etc. are ideally suited to educational projects and can be valuable learning aids. Where educational multimedia is concerned, it is vital that the content is appropriate to the level of the viewer, and usability considerations are paramount, especially for younger audiences.

Usually there are a clearly defined set of learning objectives guiding projects of this kind, successful results are obtained when the planning and execution of multimedia content follow these constraints.

Various types of multimedia content can be incorporated onto a web page, some examples include:

Audio

Although audio can contribute hugely to the immersive experience, creating an ambience or conveying information in one of the most direct and accessible ways possible, it can also have drawbacks when used on a web page. There can be a negative reaction to audio in situations where it intrudes or interferes with other audio (music perhaps) that the user is playing on their machine, or conversely where a quiet environment is required / enforced – for example in a workplace etc. The simple answer to this is to always alert the user to the option of sound, avoid activating audio automatically, and offer a prominent control to switch the audio off. It should be mentioned that where audio is intrinsic to other media then its presence is more readily accepted (and anticipated) therefore the caveats above are less important.

Video Presentations

Video content itself can consist of a variety of formats – live action footage, single person presentations, 3D animations and live action/3D composite sequences. All these types of video can be incorporated on the page as discrete elements, or themselves embedded into Flash movies (see below). The inclusion of video can be a very powerful immersive element when well produced – it is well known that YouTube is a phenomenally successful platform with huge audience figures in many cases translating into significant web site traffic for content producers. It is also true that generally we are all very visually sophisticated and professional audio-video content is a fantastic way of conveying quality and professionalism for your company.

VR (360) Panoramas

VR panoramas are often used in virtual tour applications, being an excellent way of ‘putting the viewer in the picture’. A photograph, or series of photographs, is digitally ‘stitched’ together and processed by software to produce a seamless, user driven 360 degree panorama that can be viewed from any angle. VR stands for virtual reality, and while there are other forms of VR (mainly employing simplified 3D models that can be manoeuvred around using a mouse), the single node photographic type of VR is the most visually immersive. Several nodes or hotspots can be linked together so that a viewer can journey from one to another – an example of this is Google Street View, where the user can virtually ‘travel’ along various routes, at each stage being able to pan around and zoom in and out. Again, VR Panoramas can be incorporated into flash presentations.

Flash animations

Flash is experiencing something of a decline currently, with the rising popularity of Apple devices which do not natively support the Flash plug-in, however it still has its uses and can most definitely have a place in your multimedia strategy when alternative options are included. There are many pros and cons (including the above) when it comes to flash – in fact it is possible that more has been written about flash’s usefulness (not to mention usability) on the web, than most other forms of multimedia. Various benefits include the possibility of delivering complicated animations and interactions very ‘cheaply’ in terms of file size, the ability to visually control elements very precisely on a web page, the ability to incorporate nearly all other types of content for a truly immersive multimedia experience. Disadvantages include stability issues – some users find Flash a burden on their computer resources, in some cases poor usability issues (easily addressed by proper planning and design), as well as the main issue mentioned above – lack of support on iOS devices. Again, it should be stressed that with properly implemented fallbacks it is possible to (nearly) get the best of both worlds.

Flash presentations

Mentioned separately here to distinguish the fact that flash can be used to deliver rich interactive experiences with a high degree of user input as well as highly optimised linear animations. Commonly, a flash presentation could include many of the multimedia types listed here, embedded in a custom interface allowing all the content to be accessed and enjoyed seamlessly. Also worth noting is the fact that much of the work involved in producing a flash interactive presentation can be leveraged in production of CD-ROM and DVD applications.

Slideshows

Photo slideshows can be a great way to involve your viewers in simple, stress free browsing. Where the images are of high quality and the presentation allows the images to scale up to a decent size, users can spend fair amount of time exploring the content – flicking through snaps is a time-honoured pastime for many people. Images should be well shot and have emotional impact, to be avoided are images (especially from image libraries) which lack authenticity and which people may sense are not telling a true story about you and your business.

Web cameras

Although not suitable for every occasion, web cameras certainly have their place in some situations – in education for example, perhaps a natural history site with a page dedicated to monitoring nesting sites, or perhaps a business trading on location where live feeds can add to the attractiveness of the offer.

Dynamic content

With the integration possible now between 3rd party applications and one’s own web site, there are almost endless possibilities for business owners willing to really experiment with web site multimedia. A basic example would be the use of custom mapping using Google tools, allowing the creation of personalised maps of events, activities, premises etc. Live data can be incorporated using Twitter feeds etc. This really is an area where you first think about what you want to do – then find a way of doing it!

How HTML 5 is Changing Multimedia

HTML has been the basis for nearly all internet coding since websites first began to appear. There have been a few changes, such as ASP and PHP, which allow server side processes. But in essence, the long standing HTML 4 has not changed for quite some time.

The most recent version of HTML 5 is still very much under development, which has been slowed by the competitive browser market (Firefox, Chrome, and IE). Nevertheless, HML 5 is looking very promising, and promises to remove the need for many of the multimedia add-ons which we currently use with today’s browsers.

One of the biggest developments in HTML 5 is how it affects multimedia presentations on the Internet. Most notably, the clumsy, encumbered, ‘Object’ tag has now been replaced with specific, orientated tags, such as ‘video’ and ‘audio’. These changes seem minor, but they allow the developer to add specific attributes for browser based multimedia processing.

The majority of the benefits to HTML 5 are to do with its graphical capabilities. Whereas most current browsers simply load an image, HTML 5 is expected to include a built in powerful vector engine, capable of producing vector graphics, and animations, and user interactive applications, without the need for numerous plug-ins, such as Flash and Silverlight (Which are in essence vector image processors).

The vector processing, using the tag ‘canvas’, allows a developer to section off an area of the webpage in which pictures, animation, chart, games, and interactive elements can be directly coded, with no plug-ins required.

HTML 5 will probably not look much different from your everyday web browser, and Google Chrome with Google Gears is a good example. It provides local offline application use, as well as local database storage to ensure speedy web browsing and application processing.

As with XML and other emerging Internet standards, CSS is not only an option, but a requirement in HTML, it will form the backbone of any HTML 5 compliant website to ensure it processed perfectly while allowing multimedia to fit in with the look and style of your website. This may make life more difficult for amateur web developers, especially those who focus more on multimedia and presentation rather than coding, but it is a skill well worth learning.

HTML 5 does include a lot of additional benefits to multimedia, my favourite of which is geo location. While they have released few details on exactly how this is being implemented, the geo-location functionality will allow automatic tagging (to your pictures, videos, Twitter, YouTube etc) and give huge functionality to Geo-dependent applications, which you may use to track your progress on a round the world trip or similar. This has however raised quite a few privacy concerns, some of which are well founded.

The power of HTML 5 in multimedia is only just being realized. The most important aspect is the ability to include web based applications with increased accessibility and utility. This capability not only guarantees the user will be able to view what you want, but also interact with it on an unprecedented scale.

Using the Right Tools for Multimedia Graphics Design

The explosion of multimedia in our world today is mind-boggling. Multimedia graphics, animation and interactive flash are everywhere, from television, the internet, computer and video games, to billboards, and even your mobile phones.

This in turn is boosting the demand for professionals in the multimedia and graphics industry. Positions available in the industry are wide ranging, including multimedia/graphics designer, flash designer, photo editor and illustrator.
 
Each of these roles requires a certain set of skill sets to marry creativity and technology.
To be truly successful, you need to keep abreast of the latest computer software available. These applications will give you the edge in using the right tools for the right job.

 
Some of the most widely used multimedia and graphics design software in the industry today include:
 
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe InDesign
- Adobe Photoshop
- Apple QuickTime Pro
- CorelDRAW!
- Macromedia Dreamweaver
- Macromedia Flash
- Macromedia Freehand
- Microsoft FrontPage
- Microsoft Publisher
- QuarkXpress
 
Training for these applications are widely available from the vendors, their authorized training centers, local computer training schools, on DVDs or even on the internet.
 
Classroom training offers tremendous advantages, as a trainer is available for the duration of the course to answer questions or provide additional real-life case studies or insights.
 
However, more and more people are now turning to online training programs that offer the convenience of learning from their desktop anytime, anywhere. The key advantage of online training is that the programs are divided into multiple, short lessons such that only one software feature is taught for a 5-minute training segment.
 
For instance, a 2-hour training program on Photoshop will be divided into various categories such as Brush Tools, Color Adjustments, Effects, Vector Tools, and Filters. Each category is then further divided into various individual lessons on the key features or functions.
 
As the learner, you get greater flexibility. You can focus only on the specific features that you need to use for a particular design job on a particular day, giving you the ultimate “on-the-job” training.
 
Find out more about online training on multimedia and graphics design software at www.multimediagraphicsdesign.com [http://www.multimediagraphicsdesign.com/]