The Rich Media Guide to Gift Giving

We’re entering the holiday season, so it seems necessary to answer the question on everyone’s lips, “What do you give the online marketer who has everything?”

Thankfully, technology continues its march. New tools and gizmos arrive every day that help answer that question. This month, we’ll take a closer look at some of the latest and greatest online marketing and communication tools sure to create buzz.

Visual Communicator

I’ve been exposed to so many “solutions,” I’m generally wary of hype surrounding new product offerings. I’m just not easily impressed. Yet every so often, I see a new product that really grabs me. Visual Communicator from Serious Magic is one such product.

Digital video (DV) has been with us for years now. Although it serves a valuable rich media role, creating high-quality video has generally necessitated a solid understanding of production techniques and pile of costly equipment. That kept all but the most wealthy and ambitious away from the process.

With Visual Communicator, broadcast wannabes’ dreams can be fully realized with a simple Web cam and a clip-on microphone. Built-in effects, titling, chroma key backgrounds, and overall ease of use mean even the least talented among us can quickly get up to speed creating slick, professional-looking video clips that in previous years would have eaten up most of the annual production budget. A sample of my first attempt can be seen here (warning: large file; may take time to load).

Visual Communicator works with the latest DV equipment as well as with a simple, affordable Web cam. It depends on quality and budgetary needs. Web-based output formats include RealMedia, Windows Media Player, and AVI.

Perhaps best of all is you can own a copy of Visual Communicator for less than what it used to cost for a single hour in a professional editing suite. The price is currently $199 for the Web version and $399 for the Pro edition that creates broadcast-quality video.

AudioGenerator

The spam assault took some shine off email marketing, once trumpeted as the greatest advertising medium since TV.

However, effective marketing is still about effective communication. A new offering from AudioGenerator may tap into a better way of getting information from point to point.

AudioGenerator allows marketers, trainers, and other communication professionals to quickly and easily create Web- and email-based audio messages with a simple phone call.

Subscribers are provided with a toll-free number and PIN to access AudioGenerator servers. These record audio right from the phone, then compress and serve the files. By the time the phone’s hung up, a URL is provided. E-mail recipients or Web page visitors can click a standard audio play button to hear what you have to tell them. The company’s Web site provides a free demo of the service.

The quality of the phone-based clips is surprisingly clear. AudioGenerator can also support uploads of MP3 quality audio files.

For the marketer on a budget, AudioGenerator’s service currently offers an unlimited number of email or Web-based messages for $29.95 a month.

RoboPresenter

PowerPoint is a staple for business communications. In the wrong hands, it seems more like a medieval torture device. A new offering from eHelp may make PowerPoint presentations more useful Web tools.

PowerPoint allows presentations to be exported to the Web, but the resulting presentations are often hard to follow or clearly understand without a presenter’s help.

RoboPresenter is a PowerPoint add-on that allows marketers to package PowerPoint presentations as streamlined Flash files for Web playback. By saving data in a Flash format, RoboPresenter crunches the footprint of the files down to manageable sizes while offering a series of Web enhancement tools that improve presentation usefulness in a self-help environment.

RoboPresenter allows presenters to enhance PowerPoint content by attaching narration to the slides; controlling audio timing; inserting quizzes; or attaching additional Flash movies and links.

The interface, included as part of the RoboPresenter presentation playback, allows the end user access to information about the presenter, email address links, slide notes, and navigation. Business presentation is a natural initial market, but RoboPresenter is also an ideal tool for low-budget, effective online training.

The product is currently shipping. The basic version sells for $399; the eLearning edition sells for $499.

Maven.net

I’ve long been enamored with the concept of interactive television, from the ill-fated, late 1970s Qube network to today’s earnest attempts to create meaningful interactive structures for TV broadcasting. No single technology yet breeches the gap between meaningful interactive content and the true desires of the TV audience. But Maven.net may just be the company that will help bring the future of interactive content broadcasting a little closer to the mainstream.

Headquartered in Cambridge, MA, Maven.net hopes to create a more meaningful content infrastructure by pairing broadband technologies with content that’s more in line with the concept of interactive television. By approaching broadcast’s future as an inevitable merger of traditional TV broadcast and Internet technologies, Maven has combined full-screen video content with interactive tools to help tell a more complete story.

According to Hilmi Ozguc, cofounder and CEO of Maven Networks, “A gap exists between the recognition of the broadband opportunity and the ability to execute on that vision. The Maven Media System addresses that need by delivering sophisticated and comprehensive business tools for creating more effective and profitable ways of reaching the rapidly growing base of broadband Internet users.”

TV may one day offer 1 million unique content channels to a waiting world. I’d sure like to get some of that in my stocking!

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