Multimedia May Prove a Distraction to Broadband Users

A review of more than 1,000 Web sites during the second quarter of 2000 found that 61 percent of sites with 1,000 or more pages offer audio, video, of Flash content. The survey, conducted by Decise, also found that 57 percent of the sites used outside multimedia hosting services.

The most popular multimedia formats found in the survey were Macromedia Flash (64 percent), RealNetworks (43 percent), Apple QuickTime (27 percent), and Microsoft MSVideo (26 percent).

But according to a report by Forrester Research, some of this content may be more gratuitous multimedia than useful content. Forrester’s report “Broadband Transforms Interfaces” found that real broadband value will come from building enriched data, presentation, and function into Web browsers to overcome the shortfalls of today’s online interactions. To this end, firms will build three types of rich interfaces: thin clients, muscle clients, and fat clients.

“As broadband-enabled users rely on the Net for self-service, they’ll favor sites that help accomplish goals without being interrupted by unwanted cartoons and movie clips,” said Randy Souza, associate analyst at Forrester Research. “Firms should take advantage of broadband’s ability to deliver content to upgrade their sites — by moving data, presentation, and function to the desktop — not abusing visitors with intrusive glitz.”

Today’s bandwidth constraints and browser incompatibilities have forced sites to put function on servers or abandon it altogether. However, Forrester expects broadband penetration to reach 52 percent of online households in 2004. As browser makers align, the arrival of broadband and standards-compliant browser platforms will allow firms to deliver rich content through direct manipulation, streamlined interaction, and real-time computation, according to Forrester.

Web’s Most Popular
Multimedia Formats
Format % of
Macromedia Flash 64%
RealNetworks 43%
Apple QuickTime 27%
Microsoft MSVideo 26%
Source: Decise

Thin clients will use minimal DHTML to optimize information access, but they’ll continue to depend on the server for data and function. Forrester expects these interfaces to streamline navigation to deliver faster and easier paths to content. But in order to conserve bandwidth and universal assess, thin clients won’t expand or duplicate the browser’s built-in capabilities. All data will remain on the backend, and as a result, they will lack the option of direct manipulation.

Muscle clients will emerge by 2002, Forrester found, as firms take advantage of improved standards support to build more significant pieces of functionality into their e-commerce offerings. Their enriched frontends will allow firms to differentiate their sites by pumping up Web content with desktop power. Because muscle clients operate within the browser, they provide tight integration with existing online content and services.

Forrester expects that few firms will take client-side interactivity to the next step and develop true fat clients. These applications will offer more interactivity than muscle clients, as well as the option to store information on PC hard drives. However, they will still leverage an Internet connection, allowing firms to embrace the Net while at the same time designing interfaces dedicated to supporting the core services a company provides. Heavy initial downloads and ongoing data synchronization with servers will burden users, and few companies will commit the time and resources required to build a fat client.

“By 2004, rich client interfaces will drive the majority of consumers’ PC-based Web experiences,” Souza said. “Firms will decide which kind of client to build by mapping their need for direct manipulation, streamlined interaction, and real-time computation to the strength of each client type.”

Forrester interviewed 30 commerce site owners for its report, and found that designers struggle to make their sites quick and easy to use, while they eagerly await the opportunity to offer enhanced images, audio, video, and animation. Forrester found that 20 percent of respondents offer broadband content, and 74 percent plan to do so within two years.

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