The Personal Rich Media Experience

In five years, Forrester reports that nearly 92 percent of online users will be engaging in some form of personal rich media every month (“Personal Rich Media Takes Off”). Two events in my life this week brought this projection home to me bigtime. The first event is that I am now a cursor.

As you know, my day job is with Comet Systems. I normally try and stay away from talking too much about Comet in this column, but our early success with a new product warrants mentioning due to the implications it has for anyone thinking of developing personal rich media products and tools.

The new product, called My Comet Cursor, allows users to select a permanent desktop cursor from a huge range of special interests (e.g., sports, music, movies, etc.). Since its release a few weeks ago, 1.7 million people have downloaded it.

But more interesting from a statistical standpoint is the number of people actually using the product. Although we don’t track individual users, we can tell, based on the number of cursors downloaded from our servers, that approximately 20 percent of the installed user base actively uses My Comet Cursor on a daily basis. In addition, many of the promotion banners that run alongside some of the licensed content are achieving 6 percent click-throughs and higher.

And, yes, if you download the product and go to the section marked “Cometeers,” you can have your very own Bill McCloskey cursor constantly in your face. (I’m the second column down, third from the left.)

What this points to is a general movement in the industry, away from a publisher-centric mode of interaction (the old broadcast model) to a more diverse, person-centric mode, where users, not publishers, are defining the experience, and each experience is unique. Of course, nothing is better positioned to take advantage of this movement than rich media.

Which leads to the second event that happened to me this week. I have my name on a web site called Classmates.com. It’s a site that allows you to post your high school and the year you graduated and see others from the same high school. The site forwards any email to you without revealing your actual email address, and this week an old friend of mine contacted me through the site. Having someone from the past be able to reach out and touch you via email can be a good or bad thing. (In this case it was a good thing.)

But new technologies on the market offer the personal rich media maven so much more than a bland page of text, while at the same time allow you to maintain more control over the experience.

For instance, a company called E-call.com has been developing a new technology that allows users to receive voice messages directly on their web pages. The main business for E-call is to enable sites to accept voice-generated feedback and technical-support calls directly without having to use an 800 number. And their BeeLink technology fits nicely into the user-centric personal rich media space.

With BeeLink I can listen to those long, lost voices from the past, via my personal web site, before making the decision to actually give them my phone number or email address. After all, some long, lost friends are better off left lost.

Success in the emerging field of rich media will come from recognizing that it is all about enhancement, personalization, and filtering, with users in control.

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