Create Your Own Rich Media

Let me wax nostalgic for a moment.

The year is 1991, and I’m in Las Vegas for the first time, attending my very first Siggraph convention. Siggraph is always a life-changing event, but some years just stand out. I only need mention the Typhoon Lagoon party in Orlando in the mid ’90s for many people reading this article those who know to start smiling and nodding their heads. The 1991 Las Vegas convention was one of those years.

Every year the “must attend” event at Siggraph is the Electronic Theater where the best in computer graphics over the past year is showcased: a surreal concoction of scientific visualizations, art pieces, and movie clips.

That year I saw, for the first time, some mind-blowing graphics created using tools from a San Francisco-based company called Xaos Tools. (Xaos is pronounced like “chaos.”) Back then, Xaos Tools was known for attracting the very best minds in computer graphics, and they created some of the most innovative tools for high-end graphics that existed at the time.

Well, that was then, and this is now, and I lost track of Xaos Tools years ago. So guess what? This innovative company has reinvented itself for the Internet era, re-emerging with a new name: Onflow. (It should be mentioned that Xaos Tools, as a brand, remains and was licensed to a former employee.)

Onflow has positioned itself as a sort of rich media ASP (applications service provider). In keeping with its heritage, it has developed a set of robust web-based tools that allow designers to easily create dynamic banners and splash screens.

How easily you might ask? Well, although I’ll probably never get a job as an art director, I was able to develop a banner to promote the next Rich Media SIG meeting (complete with an advanced particle-system animation) in about two hours, including learning-curve ramp-up time. Now that I’ve played with it for a while, I could probably reproduce the same banner in about half an hour.

To see it, first click here to download Onflow’s 215K proprietary player, and then click here to go to the page on my site to see the banner in all its glory. It may not win any Cleo awards, but what do you expect for two hours’ worth of work?

Onflow’s strategy, according to Mike Fell, Onflow’s new CEO, is to get “small, incremental revenue on large transactions” (spoken like a true CEO). In other words, charge people a CPM or flat fee for Onflow content they serve up, which is, by the way, hosted by Onflow.

And that content doesn’t have to be just banners. Try out this fun little game it created for a site based in China. Or this Flash-like logo it created for Groundswell VC. In fact, I find Onflow so much fun to use that I might start putting stuff all over the Rich Media SIG web site without having to worry about slowing down my site: The average Onflow file is 3K to 5K in size.

Of course, the biggest challenge facing Onflow is getting the proprietary player out there (a classic chicken-and-egg conundrum that most rich media players must navigate eventually). The problem is that it is hard to get agencies interested unless there is a minimum of 10 million players out there, and it’s difficult to get publishers to push out the player unless they know there is some advertising revenue coming their way. I’ve had to face this issue at both Comet Systems with its Comet Cursor and Cosmo Software with its VRML player, both of which approached the problem from two different angles.

Comet’s approach was editorial in nature: Appeal to the sites as a way to enhance their content, with the promise of advertising revenue later, after they’d seeded the market. Cosmo went the bundling route, working out a bundling deal with Netscape (although both companies eventually tried both strategies: Cosmo creating cool content and Comet bundling with the RealPlayer).

Onflow is taking the cool content route for now with a unique twist: developing a major focus on the Asian market. It has cut a deal with an Asian distributor that it hopes will give them a 50 percent reach in the Hong Kong market, and it recently won the equivalent of the Asian Cleo awards. It’s a strategy that just might work. Not enough rich media players are focused on markets outside the United States.

Mea Culpa

In last week’s article, I mentioned the three graces of rich media. Of course that was a history lesson, and I certainly didn’t mean to slight today’s absolute reigning queen of rich media. I mean, of course, Queen Ann Handley.

(Okay Ann, can I keep my job now?)

Until next week, keep it rich.

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