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"Multi" = "Many"

One can indeed explain all of the potential variations that a simple term like "multimedia" exposes when it comes to web development. Of course, one can explain anything given enough time and space. Let's assume you have other things to do today, though, and so we'll do our best to "sum up" rather than "explain" the field.

We're big metaphor fans around here, so think about this like trying to explain the rules of a new team sport while simply looking at the playing field … at night … with no lights … during an earthquake … and a hurricane … in the middle of a Fourth Dimensional Time Warp.


If you only learn one thing from this entire site, even though it might be a little depressing, you should never forget the First Basic Truth of the Web:


No matter how well you do your work, and no matter how well your webmasters do theirs, no one can guarantee how every page will look in every home or office — all across the globe. It just doesn't work that way, and that remains one of the hardest things to explain to clients. Actually, the ability to make a site look and operate a predictable way across most browsers in most situations distinguishes the advanced amateurs from the true professionals in this field. A lot of people can design and code to a specific version of a specific browser, but with Firefox and Internet Explorer basically splitting the U.S. market now, leaving a still significant number of people using Safari and Opera as well, a business approach to the web has to consider compromises that may seem silly, absurd, or downright irritating, but if you think about it, aren't some of your customers that way anyway?

As with the entire WebDotCalm site, we built this page in part to demonstrate our point, so before we begin to look at multimedia on the web, let's set the stage a bit.

If you're looking at this page in Firefox the graphic bar at the left here seems to hover over the menu buttons on the left of the page, and the navigation buttons at the top float over everything. That's the design, and isn't it fun that we can now do this and even cast shadows on movies like it does over the header at the top?

However, if you're looking at this page in Internet Explorer, the graphic bar floats over everything, and the navigation buttons at the top (probably) look "tucked" under this main content area. They still work, but the text doesn't look spaced up properly we would guess. Also, Internet Explorer doesn't handle the first paragraph of the "blockquote" at the top if you have this graphic hovering over it, and the first line covers the entire width of the space instead of being indented as it should.

Now … in Safari the flash movie overrides the placement of both the graphic line and the top navigation to the point where you can barely see the menu buttons, and you certainly can't use them effectively. But the blockquote works fine. As we write this TODAY, basically, Opera acts like Safari, and Netscape acts like Firefox — but that changes as browsers issue "updates" all the time. Fun, right?

Quite honestly we have modified every page in this site in consideration of these quirks, as we seek our primary goal of maintaining the Standards of the World Wide Web Consortium. Some pages even have "hacks" for specific browsers which the W3C frowns upon, but seem better than simply ignoring non-compliant browsers completely. At any rate, before bogging down with too much technical detail, we'll just add our Second Basic Truth of the Web:

Multi-Media Makes it More Complicated.

So please try to remember these fundamentals as we go forward into web video, flash application, javascript and php uses and generally the most "fun" parts of web browsing today. You can do all of them, but … well … you can't please all of the people all of the time. Somebody said that, right? For the time being, we're simply giving very basic examples of the three primary technologies prevalent today for the purpose of displaying video on the web..

Progressive Downloads

Each technology option has certain benefits, limitations, and costs associated with deployment on your web site. Even worse, no matter how carefully we put together the code for these examples, not everyone will see the same thing. It will all depend on your operating system, the browser version you're using, the plugins you have installed, and basically whatever the various companies involved in this process's think is either "helpful" or "more secure" … or (Heaven Forbid) both.

Remember, though, that as with all of the WebDotCalm site, and very particularly within this Multimedia section, these examples represent merely a very few of the options we can use for your particular circumstance.

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Streaming Video

For any serious business application, "streaming" the video, rather than using Progressive Download, has some winning benefits. As with all of the topics on this page (and as we keep saying, repeating ourselves, again) more than any other area in Web Development, this area positively overflows with variables. Not surprisingly, it also evokes a similar number of opinions. That said, and without getting too much into a discussion of the merits of different server systems and methods of deployment, the experts will uniformly agree on four particulars with some method of streaming media. (Well, except those expert that just don't feel expert enough if they're not disagreeing with "conventional" thinking of any kind. Those folks are just difficult people all around.)

  1. It serves as a marvelously effective way to handle a lot of video files coming from one site or server.
  2. It will speed up the experience for your viewers in a couple of technical ways and one very understandable one: It can determine the connection speed of individual viewers and thus provide a video stream that gives them the best chance of a "positive" experience with your site.
  3. Pleasantly ignoring a host of variables (We told you about those, right?), as a rule, it will cost less for you to deploy in the long run.
  4. It can absolutely, positively, without a doubt, protect your copyrights to a massively greater extent than simpler methods of serving video.

Just to be proper, we should note that the display you see below of miscellaneous video in various states of readiness are not actually "streamed" on Web Dot Calm. It's rather like the cobbler's kids that have no shoes, but we've never set up the necessary Flash Media Server to handle just this one little area on the site. Still, the example also serves as a way to think about deploying video in general, regardless of the delivery method, so that's a bonus.

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Seeing the benefits of Streaming Video Deployment, you might think about this option should any of these enumerated situations apply to you specifically. There are a multitude of ways to do things with video on the web, and a multitude of reasons to do so. As quaint as it may sound, before knowing a few specifics of a particular situation, our answers generally fall into the "It depends." category. Should you desire to ask us anything in detail, though, we'll be glad to give you our opinions, even if you're not a client. We're like that.

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Photo Display

There are literally thousands of ways to display photos on the web. Probably the most "popular" in the newer sites involves almost innumerable variations of Flash technology. As we explain a bit more thoroughly in the next section, that approach (like everything else on the web) requires an understanding of the compromise in potential user browser friendliness you'll require for things to look the way you want them to. For many desired functions, javascript and in particular AJAX can provide very similar results without the demanding bandwidth requirements of Flash.

Indeed much of what you see on the other pages of WebDotCalm utilize this technology. Remember we're making no effort to show you what a site should look like; we're just trying to stimulate your brains to help you consider what your site can look like.

The following example uses no Flash whatsoever, relying instead on javascript and XML structure. This particular demonstration comes from an independent movie that we happened to shoot the photographs for, but you can see how the display method can work a lot of places.

Red Velvet marketing tag line

We should note that one of the distinct benefits of using XML comes when clients want to be able to update a relatively complicated — but still custom — site on their own. With just a basic understanding of Microsoft Excel and a list of simple steps that we write down, people can keep the individual look and feel that custom web sites offer, while still being able to keep them extremely current. This application works particularly well in retail areas, where accurately displaying inventory actually on hand can be critical for good customer relations.

We call that approach "Customizing Dynamics" but don't ask us why.

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As with all of the topics on this page, just the simple term opens up a set of extremely divergent roads. Most people associate "Flash" at a fundamental level with "movement on the web page" — although regular web viewers will probably be aware of its "use" as a video medium too. Once again we're just trying to scratch the surface here, and explain a bit where WebDotCalm fits into the game.

From a code writer's perspective there are two essentially distinct disciplines within Flash, those being "motion" driven as distinguished from those primarily having "interaction" as the goal. As to the former, WebDotCalm has a great deal of experience with Flash Animation and somewhat less in the second option, the Flash Programming field. We don't want to drag this on and on here either, but by looking around at this example site, you can fairly easily see the uses and nuances that we see most beneficial today as regards Flash technology.

To be perfectly clear, we'll say that we are not, per se, a Flash Development company, although we have worked with several over the years. For the most part, people that do heavy-duty Action Script coding fill their time with nothing but that, as the field quickly becomes quite erudite and complex. We've found over the years that when we need to employ a more rigorous Flash application within one of our designs, we simply team up with a group that specializes in Flash for that portion of the project.

That said, for specific "project" goals, specifically those that don't envision massive overhauls of asset materials on a regular basis, WebDotCalm can actually accomplish "Flash Site" goals much more economically than a more traditional "Flash House" would be able to do. Because of the more Design and Development, as opposed to pure Development approach you'll usually find with a group that concentrates only on Flash, we have found ourselves simply more attuned to "artisitic" enterprise in Flash display. Also, they're fun. Always a bonus.

You can also see a couple of (scaled down per the norm here on WebDotCalm) examples of "modules" that we've integrated for past clients. We included the "Photo Gallery" not so much because of uniqueness as because we've just given a javascript example above, and it might help you see the similarities and differences in the approaches.

Without a doubt you can "do" things with Flash that just aren't reasonably possible with most other forms of web programming. Flash has some significant limitations when it comes to your universal goals with a site, however, and we'll be glad to go in to more detail with you when we understand your particular entertainment and economic aims.

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Advertising Electronically

Because many, many traditional ad agencies and specialists have been around for decades, so far we haven't been called up to do a major print campaign with six-figure budgets. Although that seems sad, we manage to live with the disappointment, and have learned to combine the smaller print needs that our clients seem more able to fund, as well as taking advantage of concurrent use on the web and through targeted email approaches and online advertising placement programs.

As with everything on this page, we can't possibly cover all of the variations possible in just a couple of examples, so this particular section tends to change quite a bit. Time allowing, we tend to throw up whatever's more or less new here, because like most people that create things, we're always most fond of whatever project we're working on, or we've just completed.

baynetwork1008Aphone homebaynetwork1008B

You can probably tell that we're big believers in the power and value of laughter around here. We think that the staid and stuffy approach that traditional ad agency tend to roll out. That said, we did mention that no one's ever come to us with hundreds of thousands of dollars and asked for whatever we come up with. It could be that a correlation exists in those two facts … but probably not.

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"Advertising" Twists

Let's face it. The point of business web development sees customer attention as the goal. That makes sense. Compared to buying ad space in a print publication, the web looks like a "steal" in terms of simple dollars spent. Of course the web also greatly confuses all of the "traditional" methods of business school acumen. The message, obviously, simply means that we have to start thinking differently. If you think about the web in Cheap Advertising terms, it opens up a multitude of paths that (even though probably traveled before) can make all the difference.Sexy Red Velvet Movie Poster

If you can entertain people, they will be more likely to remember you. Hey we remember Robert Frost AND Groucho Marx, and they were history class around here.

Oh, and by the way, Groucho's first name was actually "Julius" … thus clearly working into the advertising world, particularly if you're Canadian. Et tu, brute? Eh? (In Geekland that means, "Oh, just because you're bigger and stronger you think you win?")

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Hidden Value

There are times, particularly when we're targeting a younger audience, that we'll release more or less "supporting" entertainment sites with the aim of keeping the entertainment value high for a particular product, or company, whatever. Putting "Easter Eggs" inside a site, which essentially means building in "hidden" aspects or bonus features, can be an extremely effective addition to any marketing plan. After all, we know where all the secrets are, and can therefore leak the information (through viral marketing, etc.) whenever we want, and that will hopefully keep people interested in, and returning to, the primary site.

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This example shows these can be fully "free-standing" sites, with their own "feel" and mood, or they can be just little "happy" tidbits of added interactivity, like the one we've shown in the Viral Marketing category following. We should mention that the ULaLa site pictured here had a lot more functionality in it when we finally launched, with music, hidden video clips showing up, and various morphs of the objects in different places. We didn't see a reason to keep it all working here, however, since that's not really the point, but we did leave a couple of those Easter Egg links inside so you can get a feel for the concept.

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Viral Marketing

This had always seemed like an odd term for those of us involved on a day to day basis with computer fundamentals. We spend a huge amount of time trying to protect our systems and our sites from "virus" infection on the web, and then we encourage our clients to consider using "viral" marketing as a dandy and cheap way to get people's attention. It relies upon fundamental human psychology, and that's always handy.

People laugh because we're surprised. Think about any successful advertising campaign you can remember, and we're willing to bet that the vast majority of them at least made you smile, and probably brought out genuine laughs. Every year tens of thousands of people watch the Super Bowl, not for the game itself, but due primarily to the high-end commercials they know we'll see. And if you give it a little more thought, the next day you can probably remember a few of them that caught your attention, but odds are good that you can't remember the products these spots were supposed to be advertising.

flashing maniacViral Marketing takes aim at the same narrow windows of opportunity that traditional advertising seeks to exploit, but because it doesn't cost a small fortune, it becomes much easier to take a shot at (and it doesn't hurt nearly as much if a particular effort falls short of hoped-for goals).

The basic principle of this approach involves sending out a fairly traditional press release to whatever list of people you feel safe targeting. Your goal, of course, hinges on whether or not the "hook" entertains your audience enough that they start forwarding it around to their circle of friends. And then they start forwarding it … and etc., etc.. You get the picture.

The little picture at the right in this section actually happened to work well for one of our clients. If you click on the image, a window will pop up that plays a Flash version of the shot, at the very end of which the "monster" winks at you. In this case we linked the photo to a "secret" spot on the movie web site, which (hopefully) had its own entertainment value, and so that probably helped get people to pass it around too. By tracking the traffic on that image, though, the client was able to not only see that the campaign "worked" from their perspective, but they were able to triple the size of their mailing list in a very short period of time.

That doesn't happen very often on the web as a rule. Putting a tangible "value" on web expenditures can be one of the most challenging aspects of the entire operation. You put in a lot of time and effort, and sometimes you spend serious amounts of money, but you still don't get "Where's the beef?" very often. With Viral Marketing, at least you're not betting the ranch on every idea. (And don't you just love it when a good metaphor presents itself?)

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Chicken Run

Often times clients don't really have a solid idea about what they want in a certain area of the site, they just know that want something to do something, or provide a feeling, or some such. Even if they have hired an Art Director, or even have a group of artists on staff, they may not have thought of all the details that we'll need to actually make a web site fully operational. Think about it like being a Program Director for a television network: You have 24 hours in a day, and you need to fill that space with 24 hours of programming — exactly.

A case like this spawned the Flash element you can see immediately below here, the one with two headless chickens playing, well, chicken. Now we're not exactly sure "how" we came up with this idea, but we are pretty sure we don't want to go too far down that road anyway. At the very least, it can serve as an example of an important lesson in web site development: If you can make people smile, you've come a long way toward making them enjoy your site. And that covers a lot of the distance toward making them enjoy your product.

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