Web Alive

A look what multimedia is doing to the Internet

Next only to the Internet, the term that has spawned the maximum hype over the past few years is multimedia. Anything and everything, it seemed, suddenly was "multimedia" -ranging from computer monitors to corporate presentations to CD-ROM drives. And when this hype combines with the hype about the Internet and the World Wide Web, the potential for confusion is immense.

So what is this multimedia thing anyway, and how does it tie in with the Internet?

Multiple Media

A "multimedia app" is, very simply, an application that uses multiple media. It can handle different data types, like plain text, pictures, sound and even animation.

So in a company presentation, you might have some fanfare with trumpets to start off, and the company's logo slowly growing in 3-D to fill the screen, before fading away to be replaced by the last quarter's results in the form of a graph. Clearly, such a presentation is more effective in capturing audience attention than columns of figures.

Net Results

This brings us to how the Internet fits into all this. The growth of the Internet has, in the past

couple of years, been driven by the World Wide Web. It was growing, sure, but it needed the coming of the Web to reach the kind of stratospheric growth rates it enjoys today. And the growth of the Web can be explained by a single word- hypermedia, which is the convergence of hyperlinks and multimedia.

Hyper? Me?

Anybody who has used the Windows Help system is familiar with the concept of hyperlinks (also called hypertext). The underlined phrases are hyperlinks. You just click on them to get further information on the topic.

This concept is taken to its logical conclusion with the World Wide Web. The more you think about it, the more sense it makes why should you be restricted to just text when you click on a link?

Imagine clicking on Donald Duck's picture and hearing that familiar quacky voice saying: "Nice to have you here". Wouldn't that be a more fun experience than seeing a piece of plain text like "Donald is pleased to have you here"? That's one big reason the Web is looking so attractive to everybody now.

On a more serious note, imagine the drudgery it eliminates for . someone looking up either a disease symptom for someone in the family, or a researcher trying to discover a cure for cancer, looking out to avoid duplicating any work already done. Many sites devoted to updates on cancer research give him the information he wants complete with pictures.

Also, the wonderful part is that all you need is a web browser, like Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, available for free download on the Web (where else?) at http://home.netscape.com or http://www.microsoft.com. But what if you feel that the fancy features you want are missing in plain old Netscape?

Plug Me In

This is a powerful idea: the plug-in. What this means is simply that you can find, at various spots on the Web, pieces of software which attach on to your Web browser and extend its functionality. You could even write your own plug-ins if you like. Shockwave adds interactive multimedia capabilities to your browser that are on a par with those on a CD-ROM. You need fairly fast modem and a good connect for this, though.

For a look at Shockwave, perhaps one of the most clever multimedia plug-ins, check out http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave

What Next?

The promise of multimedia, however, will be just hype unless you can conveniently use it for both business and pleasure. We'll now take a look at how one could do both, with freely available tools.


One of the great possibilities of conducting business electronically is the vast new markets it opens up. However, international travel is expensive, and not being able to see who you are doing business with can be a problem.

Enter Videoconferencing. That's simply the term for sitting in front of a camera and microphone, with your counterpart elsewhere abroad or in the next office, doing the same. You then talk k to each other and finalize your business (though there still isn't a way to finalize your deal with a handshake).

However, even video conferencing requires leased lines and other expensive equipment. Hence, it's out of the reach of small and medium-sized businesses. Or is it?

There now exist products which allow you to conduct videoconferencing of a kind over the Internet (for an example, see http://www.cuseeme.com).

The products are available, in the best tradition of the Net, either free or at extremely low prices. The video is currently jerky, but that's likely to change with more bandwidth. And you can't deny the price is right...

I Want My MTV

But what about movies? Or music videos? Isn't there a way to use the Net so that music lovers like me can not only keep up to date with what's happening in the music world, but actually see videos and stuff as well?

You bet. Using essentially the same videoconferencing technology, you can see snippets of videos, hear snatches of movie dialogue, or for even better entertainment, see and hear politicians making election promises.

And, of course, your favorite channels. On the Web try http://www.discovery.com

One thing is clear. The number of cool things, and the kind of cool things, that you can use Net to do is only going to increase, and it is impossible to predict from here where the World Wide Web is going to go in a couple of years. Stay with us, and we'll explore it together.

Udhay Shankar N <udhay@pobox.com> is a Random Networking Enthusiast who collects interesting people.