Hype the multimedia of the future

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 08/89 item 01 - scanned

At the recent MacWorld Expo in Boston you couldn't move for people claiming that Hypermedia would revolutionise our lives. I was reminded of the advent of television. Hypermedia is similar to television in that it is jolly expensive at the moment but, providing the costs nosedive, it will probably become central to our existence. And I think we would be well advised to apply the lessons we've learned from our experience with television to this new field.

Multimedia is the drawing together of all sorts of electronic wizardry into a single coherent system. Thus you can input data to your computer from a variety of devices, including sound and video recorders.

You can read information from high speed digital sources such as compact discs and video discs and, of course, you can output this information through the screen and the sound channels on your machine.

What this means is that you could theoretically make up a 'newspaper' page and, instead of scanned two dimensional images as illustrations, you could use video sequences with appropriate sound tracks. Simply move your screen pointer into one of the picture panels to start the video running.

Sounds a bit gimmicky doesn't it? I saw this being done at one of the keynote conferences. The audience loved it. You could almost feel them reaching for their cheque books.

Some will take the next step and get their multimedia documents pressed on to compact discs. This process isn't horrendously expensive, even in low quantities.

It's not the little guys that the computer companies are after at the moment. It's some of your customers, the businesses who can really benefit from the introduction of hypermedia, either as a basis for their own publications or as a tool to help their companies work more effectively. Imagine what an advertising agency could do with this kind of equipment.

While I was in Boston, I saw a multimedia presentation called 'The Holy Land'. This was a look at the hatred and confusion that exists in that part of the world. You could choose to examine the problems from a number of different viewpoints. The options were presented in the form of captioned icons. The demonstrator selected the filmed views of two children, one Palestinian and one Jewish.

The Jewish child said: 'God gave us this land. 'The Palestinian child couldn't understand why the Jews now occupied the land where his parents and grandparents had lived. There was much more to the children's stories than these short extracts. The point is that the user of the multimedia system could explore the information base, picking a soundtrack here, a video there, a textual description somewhere else.

By building all points of view into the document, the publisher was able to offer the user a more rounded understanding of the tangled situation in the Holy Land.

The dangers of multimedia are similar to those of television. It is a very powerful medium, yet the irresponsible will have a free hand to trivialise or distort information. We must not forget that it can misinform as well as inform.

Hypermedia documents combine the depth of a book with the powerful imagery of television. They give the user absolute control over which paths are followed through the information. The process is enjoyable and it provides a very seductive way of learning.

At the moment the cost of buying all the necessary equipment is quite high but, like everything else in this industry, the price will fall to an acceptable level and probably very quickly. The aim is for home systems at less than $1,000 and a huge market for Hypermedia 'software' being sold like today's video tapes or compact discs.

The VAR's opportunity is in selling hypermedia building systems to publishing companies, film makers, advertising agencies, private training companies and the like.

They will probably be prepared to plunge in now on what is very likely to be a major publishing medium of the future, almost regardless of the cost.