How can multimedia be used to create immersive presentations on a web site?
To be truly immersive, the content offered on a web page or application should offer the viewer as comprehensive an experience as possible, supplying many kinds of stimulating and engaging ‘windows’ into the subject being discussed.
The viewer should find either that their impulse to ‘find out more’ is anticipated and satisfied at every possible turn, ideally with more content that is integrated into the page, or that their attention is so completely held by the content (immersed in the experience) that they wish to linger a while longer learning about the subject.
If the subject happens to be you and your business, then you are well on the way to converting a viewer into a customer.
Multimedia in Education
Many education web sites and resources make full use of multimedia. Flash applications, often involving interactivity in various forms such as questionnaires, educational games etc. are ideally suited to educational projects and can be valuable learning aids. Where educational multimedia is concerned, it is vital that the content is appropriate to the level of the viewer, and usability considerations are paramount, especially for younger audiences.
Usually there are a clearly defined set of learning objectives guiding projects of this kind, successful results are obtained when the planning and execution of multimedia content follow these constraints.
Various types of multimedia content can be incorporated onto a web page, some examples include:
Although audio can contribute hugely to the immersive experience, creating an ambience or conveying information in one of the most direct and accessible ways possible, it can also have drawbacks when used on a web page. There can be a negative reaction to audio in situations where it intrudes or interferes with other audio (music perhaps) that the user is playing on their machine, or conversely where a quiet environment is required / enforced – for example in a workplace etc. The simple answer to this is to always alert the user to the option of sound, avoid activating audio automatically, and offer a prominent control to switch the audio off. It should be mentioned that where audio is intrinsic to other media then its presence is more readily accepted (and anticipated) therefore the caveats above are less important.
Video content itself can consist of a variety of formats – live action footage, single person presentations, 3D animations and live action/3D composite sequences. All these types of video can be incorporated on the page as discrete elements, or themselves embedded into Flash movies (see below). The inclusion of video can be a very powerful immersive element when well produced – it is well known that YouTube is a phenomenally successful platform with huge audience figures in many cases translating into significant web site traffic for content producers. It is also true that generally we are all very visually sophisticated and professional audio-video content is a fantastic way of conveying quality and professionalism for your company.
VR (360) Panoramas
VR panoramas are often used in virtual tour applications, being an excellent way of ‘putting the viewer in the picture’. A photograph, or series of photographs, is digitally ‘stitched’ together and processed by software to produce a seamless, user driven 360 degree panorama that can be viewed from any angle. VR stands for virtual reality, and while there are other forms of VR (mainly employing simplified 3D models that can be manoeuvred around using a mouse), the single node photographic type of VR is the most visually immersive. Several nodes or hotspots can be linked together so that a viewer can journey from one to another – an example of this is Google Street View, where the user can virtually ‘travel’ along various routes, at each stage being able to pan around and zoom in and out. Again, VR Panoramas can be incorporated into flash presentations.
Flash is experiencing something of a decline currently, with the rising popularity of Apple devices which do not natively support the Flash plug-in, however it still has its uses and can most definitely have a place in your multimedia strategy when alternative options are included. There are many pros and cons (including the above) when it comes to flash – in fact it is possible that more has been written about flash’s usefulness (not to mention usability) on the web, than most other forms of multimedia. Various benefits include the possibility of delivering complicated animations and interactions very ‘cheaply’ in terms of file size, the ability to visually control elements very precisely on a web page, the ability to incorporate nearly all other types of content for a truly immersive multimedia experience. Disadvantages include stability issues – some users find Flash a burden on their computer resources, in some cases poor usability issues (easily addressed by proper planning and design), as well as the main issue mentioned above – lack of support on iOS devices. Again, it should be stressed that with properly implemented fallbacks it is possible to (nearly) get the best of both worlds.
Mentioned separately here to distinguish the fact that flash can be used to deliver rich interactive experiences with a high degree of user input as well as highly optimised linear animations. Commonly, a flash presentation could include many of the multimedia types listed here, embedded in a custom interface allowing all the content to be accessed and enjoyed seamlessly. Also worth noting is the fact that much of the work involved in producing a flash interactive presentation can be leveraged in production of CD-ROM and DVD applications.
Photo slideshows can be a great way to involve your viewers in simple, stress free browsing. Where the images are of high quality and the presentation allows the images to scale up to a decent size, users can spend fair amount of time exploring the content – flicking through snaps is a time-honoured pastime for many people. Images should be well shot and have emotional impact, to be avoided are images (especially from image libraries) which lack authenticity and which people may sense are not telling a true story about you and your business.
Although not suitable for every occasion, web cameras certainly have their place in some situations – in education for example, perhaps a natural history site with a page dedicated to monitoring nesting sites, or perhaps a business trading on location where live feeds can add to the attractiveness of the offer.
With the integration possible now between 3rd party applications and one’s own web site, there are almost endless possibilities for business owners willing to really experiment with web site multimedia. A basic example would be the use of custom mapping using Google tools, allowing the creation of personalised maps of events, activities, premises etc. Live data can be incorporated using Twitter feeds etc. This really is an area where you first think about what you want to do – then find a way of doing it!