Is Rich Media Too Rich?

This week I promised to tell you everything that’s going on in the rich media wireless space. Which is quite an easy task, because nothing’s going on there.

Well, I mean there are some distant rumblings. Promises made, demos kludged together and so forth. But the hope of seeing your children frolicking on your cell phone or on your PDA, the kind of thing I reported a few months ago that PacketVideo is aiming for, seem pretty far away at this point.

For one thing, PacketVideo is in its quiet period right now, having announced its intentions to go public, so there is no news from them. And for another, I had a rather sobering conversation with Owen Davis, founder of former rich media player The Thinking Media, about his take on the wireless space and the failure of rich media on the Internet.

Owen’s company has moved into the new wireless space full force and has left rich media banners behind on the back burner. The reason for this has implications for the entire rich media industry, which I want to explore in a second. But first I want to dive into The Thinking Media’s new product, “Sonata.”

Sonata is a toolkit that allows small and medium-sized businesses to develop products, services, and even games for WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) enabled wireless devices.

But Sonata is more than just a toolkit. It is a platform and a portal for m-commerce (mobile commerce) applications. Consumers can go to the Sonata portal to customize and choose the kinds of applications they want (horoscopes, sports scores, stock quotes, news). Businesses can use the Sonata platform to build their own applications for free and post them to the Sonata portal.

Incorporated into the Sonata platform is complete ad serving and tracking capability, important since The Thinking Media’s business plan currently depends on ad revenues and transaction fees. All this will be rolling out over the next few months.

WAP technology is an open-standard wireless protocol developed by Phone.com, Nokei and others to deliver interactive, text-based applications on wireless devices. The current version of the spec does not allow for things like streaming media, although some multimedia capabilities are supported.

For Owen, the powerful thing about Sonata is that it is built for the smooth migration from text-based WAP technology to rich-media-capable Java when that becomes available. But it will be at least six to nine months, he said, before rich media hits the wireless devices.

Which brings us to the second part of this article. Although Owen has great hopes for rich media in the wireless space, he feels that it has just not worked on the web. And Owen should know what he’s talking about. The Thinking Media, after all, was one of the pioneers in the rich media banner space, having developed both Active Ads and ActiveTrack.

Active Ads is a Java-based toolkit, much like IBM’s Hotmedia, that allows for the creation of interactive rich media banners. With Active Ads, developers could combine small (3-5K) applets to create larger, more interactive banners, parts of which would load when needed.

Unfortunately, the agencies have found that rich media takes too much time and too much work, and they just have not wanted to deal with it, Owen said. Although it provides real value when done properly, the tools are not good enough to make it easy enough to use for widespread adoption. Broadband will only add to the problem since the tools will have to become much more sophisticated. In addition, the back end is a huge problem, in Owen’s eyes. In fact, he doesn’t see rich media working on the web for the next year.

So I ask you, the readers, what do you think?

  • What have been your experiences using rich media?

  • What works and what doesn’t?

  • Is rich media dead on the web, morphing to another platform (email, wireless)?

  • Do agencies “not want to deal with it”?

  • What have been your experiences tracking the results?

  • If you have used rich media, would you use it again?

  • Are the rich media companies listening to you?

Publishers: What are your horror stories? What are your successes?

Tell me, and I promise to maintain your anonymity if you do not want your name published. Depending on the responses received, I’ll let you all in on the feedback (while protecting the innocent). Let’s hear it!

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