The Three Graces of Rich Media

I’ve just quit my day job.

If you ever wondered if I was serious about the rich media industry, now you know. I have quit to evangelize and grow the rich media industry full-time in my role as chairman of the soon-to-be-renamed Rich Media SIG.

At the risk of antagonizing all the companies with great technologies that I’ve interviewed over the last few weeks, and who are just dying to see their names in print, I’d like to honor this change in my life by dedicating this week’s column to the history of the term “rich media” and to pay homage to three women, without whom, in my opinion, the rich media industry would not exist as we know it today.

It is important to understand that the term “rich media” is an advertising term. Although technologies like video, Java, audio, and vector graphics (Flash, VRML) have been around almost since the beginning of the web as online publishing design tools, the term “rich media” has always been reserved to indicate how these technologies relate to advertising. The reason behind this has to do with how and why the term was coined in the fist place.

Historically, Suzanne Brisendine is credited with coining the term “rich media.” At the time, Suzanne, who currently heads up marketing for Audiobase, was the Internet evangelist for Intel. Suzanne realized, and rightly so, that the way to drive demand for Intel’s faster chips was through the promotion of technologies that created a richer surfing experience on the web. And although it was companies like Intel and Silicon Graphics who funded some of the early experiments in rich media, it was clear that advertisers were eventually going to fund this type of content if it was going to take off in a big way. Thus, it was important that advertisers and, in particular, agencies, become familiar and comfortable with these advanced web technologies in order to drive demand.

Our second grace, Allie Shaw (currently the VP of marketing for Unicast) was, at the time, director of marketing for streaming media service provider InterVu (now part of Akamai). Along with John Detar, head of sales at InterVu, they created something called the V-banner, the first attempt to put video in an ad banner. As part of a campaign to promote the V-banner to agencies, Allie organized, along with Suzanne and others, a three-city evangelism tour called, you guessed it: Rich Media Days. It was this three-city event that first exposed the advertising community, in a big way, to the wonders of rich media.

The third woman, Mara Lapacis (now with Xceed) was, at the time, the publisher of Channelseven.com and a tireless promoter of rich media technologies. She began Turboads.com in order to focus on the growing rich media community at a time when a lot of people in the online advertising industry didn’t want to hear about anything but GIF banners.

Put together, these three women sparked and nurtured the growing interest in rich media technologies within the advertising community. I know since I was there from the beginning, working with Suzanne in my role as VRML Evangelist at SGI’s Cosmo Software, participating in all three Rich Media Days with Allie, and convincing Cosmo to become the first sponsor of Turboads.com. And last year when I decided to start up my little trade organization, the Rich Media SIG, it was Suzanne who convinced Intel first, and later Audiobase, to become charter sponsors; Allie who provided space in the Unicast west coast office for our meetings; and Mara who offered ChannelSeven’s services to design the original site and logo.

The SIG itself grew faster than I imagined, and the demands of the industry were greater than I could handle, running it as a part-time enterprise. Demands for standards, for certification programs, for more resources, for better coverage, and for more meetings in more cities (as well as for little things like actually getting around to updating the site once in a while, maintaining the mailing list, and providing value for my sponsors) all became more than I could handle to still maintain a life. So a decision had to be made. I’ve always been the kind of person that dreams of changing the world. So I went with the SIG. Time will tell if I made the right decision. From my window, it looks like a brand-new day.

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