On-Demand Site Communication
Today, site designers offer a variety of tools and features to help visitors navigate a website. Flash demos greet visitors and sell the products. Flyouts and dropdowns provide directions within the context of the entire site. There are all kinds of bells and whistles including avatars, icons and other forms of visual and text communication.
And though these goodies sing and dance, they can’t be customized by the user who must sit passively, listening to the cartoonish, computer-generated “human” make the same sales pitch each time the user returns to the home page.
But things are changing rapidly thanks to increased multimedia opportunities and the explosive expansion of broadband. In the future, sites will become unique broadcasting platforms tailored to the needs of each visitor. This variation on broadcasting has been called narrowcasting or tightcasting – and it’s time to get on-board and turn your web site into a truly customizable, multi-media experience.
The Multiple Problems of Multi-Media
The reasons we aren’t seeing tightcasting across the world wide web have to do with both costs and technology.
To provide a more humanized appearance to its website, a non-profit organization paid a design firm to create a human avatar to answer common visitor questions so when you arrive at the home page, you’re greeted by a cartoon rendition of a women who blinks, looks around and even follows visitor cursor movements.
Visitors type in common questions and the on-screen “personality” does her cyborg best to provide the right answer to the visitor’s questions. Problems arose when questions were entered using different nouns and verbs – too many variations to deliver accurate results. So, often visitors received answers to questions that weren’t asked. Or, they received the “I didn’t understand you. Please re-enter your question” message which got pretty tired after a few go-rounds. Finally, the mouth movements of the avatar never synched up to the audio words that were being played so most of the time the avatar looked like she was chewing celery.
The cost for this abomination? $5,000. And that was just for the answering avatar. The rest of the site cost a whole lot more. And while this site is still active today (talking cartoon lady and all) the site owner figures she spent the $5k so why not use the feature – even it doesn’t work!
Multimedia – Flash animation, videos, music and other multi-media experiences are coming, but we’re still in the early stages of development here and how you spend your site development dollars may not require a talking, cartoon head to maintain interest. A simple PowerPoint presentation can accomplish the same thing (even better) for a lot less money so shop around for affordable multi-media solution.
Not every application seamless syncs up with HTML coding to produce an attractive, interactive site, leading to the use of “work-arounds” – fixes that get the job done but not in the most efficient fashion. If a multi-media feature is a round peg pounded into a square hole, it may work – but how well? What’s the failure rate? And will the multi-media features run equally well on AOL’s browser (the worst) to Google to Firefox? (FYI, Firefox is well ahead of the curve on usable multimedia applications. And you can download it for free. Very cool. Very simple.)
Search Engine Limitations
Search engine algorithms – the formulae used to assess, index and rank a site – are pretty primitive even after 12 years in development. SE spiders are confused by Flash and they think avatars are alien life forces that have infiltrated the site.
The fact is that current search engine technology is limited in what it can read and can’t read. First, any text in a graphics format (gif, jpeg or other formats) is invisible to the spiders crawling a site. So you could have a really expensive, screaming-mimi homepage filled with avatars, Flash animations and cool videos of products in use…and search engines won’t pick it up – at least for the time being.
Recognizing the trend toward multi-media sites, search engine designers are working to correct this problem, and though the much-touted Orion algorithm, purchased by Google from a grad student in
, attempts to address some of these technical limitations, expectations have been adjusted downward as Orion is being refined and ready to launch in 2007. Australia
With the popularity of Youtube.com (recently purchased by Google for $1.6 billion after less than two years on line), myspace.com. facebook.com and other social and personalized sites, the trend toward more user-defined content and site application is just around the corner.
Now, we just have to wait for SE technology to catch up with the demand for more interactive multimedia to customize each user’s onsite experience.
The Future Won’t Wait
With customizable, on-line user experiences, niche sites or larger sites with niche products will be able to highlight these products to motivated buyers. Instead of getting lots and lots of “just-looking” traffic, sites can be customized dynamically based on the user’s keywords.
This allows for demonstrations of products, easy assembly instructions for the technology-impaired, narrowcasts targeted at a very narrow demographic saving bandwidth and visitors’ time.
Tightcasting isn’t broadcasting (obviously). Broadcasting via traditional media, i.e. radio, TV newspapers, etc. must appeal to the broadest demographic (and, all too often, to the lowest common denominator). With tightcasting, the message, the product, the information can be targeted with laser specificity, meeting all of the needs of the reader.
Even more beneficial is the way information (product descriptions of otherwise) is delivered and assimilated by site visitors. Today, we read site text. The average American reads at an eighth-grade level which severely limits the words and terms used in site text. Ask the average guy on the street what an avatar is and he’ll guess it’s
’s latest SUV or Taco Bell’s newest offering. Toyota
People learn best when they receive information in both visual and auditory forms. Readers can read at their own paces, turn off the sound, or turn up the sound and skip the reading altogether. The delivery of information is best accomplished through multi-media, fully-interactive means. And that’s what tightcasting is all about. And that’s where we’re all headed as site owners and webmasters.
Tomorrow’s Tightcast Platform
It’ll look better and sound different from the websites today. Think of your website as a little TV station. You can narrowcast everything from crocheting to swapping out an engine in a 302 Mustang – while you’re selling the products to do those very things (though probably not on the same website).
You’ll be able to offer viewing options to visitors that haven’t even been invented yet, though they’re coming on fast.
Traditional websites, with sections on products, the company, spec sheets and other standard fare will soon give way to a more personalized tour of the site, directing visitors with verbal and visual cues, providing additional information at the request of the visitor, delivering how-to videos and product demonstrations.
Why not televised testimonials from happy customers? (Nothing sells like a happy customer.) Video documentaries form numerous for-pay and open access sources. It won’t be too long before the television and the world wide web will become one, with TV watchers actually able to buy products seen in a show. It’s coming and fast.
So, look to the future and prepare yourself for the multi-media, fully interactive web site of tomorrow. In fact, you can get a running start by adding some features like Flash and video easily. Download course lessons, take a test drive from home, try it on-line before you buy it.
Oh it’s coming, all right. The question is, will your site be ready for the next generation of interactivity. If not, you won’t be able to take advantage of all of the different media that visitors will expect when they stop by your site. Ultimately, you’ll be the black & white, 12-in screen TV in the age of 64-in, hi-def, flat screen TVs.
And, no doubt, it’s going to hurt your bottom line.