TECHNOFILE

An intriguing new hypermedia magazine made its debut last month, making brave noises about its editorial vision. No, not Michael Kinsley's online publication Slate, whose launch was splashed over the news pages of its inky ancestors. We'll come to that in due course. While Slate was making itself available gratis on the Net, a magazine on CD-ROM called Interactive Wave was trying to carve out a niche on the newsstands. A mammal in a world of dinosaurs, or a misguided stray from a software shop?

I-Wave (pounds 9.99) is actually an Anglicised and updated version of a French product that goes by the grandly rolling title of La Vague Interactive. For your tenner you get a publication unmistakably descended from glossy magazines, but which is equally distinctively a specimen of a new form. Logically, the nearest comparison after print forms is with television, but subjectively it feels a little bit like personal cinema. Its producers have a wide-screen sensibility.

They are also multimedia purists, insisting that every item be a graphical, textual and aural experience. In some areas, the effect is that of a very small gift in a very big box. The CD-ROM reviews, for example, boil down to thumbnail notices whose natural home is a sidebar on a printed page. I-Wave's critical acuity is a touch uneven, too. Kevin Costner, narrator of 500 Nations, a disk about Native Americans, is decried for "easing a typically post-colonial collective conscience" while failing to examine his own. Yet when it comes to other Western stars who dally with indigenous peoples, like Sting or the subject of the lead feature, Peter Gabriel, the magazine rolls over and waggles its legs in the air.

The big names on the cover are never what makes a genuinely creative magazine interesting, though. In this case, the revelations are to be found in a section called "Outlands", featuring pieces on Mongolia and Vietnam. These have a strong flavour of the old Actuel magazine. They are also captivating, and convincing, models of how a publication can make good on the promise of multimedia. In the Vietnam feature, for example, observations about France's post-colonial relationship with the country are superimposed on postcards from the colonial era; an emerald-green forest landscape forms the backdrop to slide-shows about Vietnam's ethnic minorities; local music completes the sensory environment.

"Letters from Mongolia" is the piece de resistance. It is organised by the letters of the alphabet, and this points to the secret of the success of both the "Outlands" features. The key is not the subtlety of the graphic framework, nor the seductiveness of the images, nor even the degree to which the whole evokes the sensation of cinema. It lies in the use of words. To greater or lesser degrees, everybody in hypermedia accepts that the awkwardness of reading from screens imposes a constraint on text. Most conclude that they only have space for the superficial or banal; very few think about how to make a few words count.

The solution adopted in the Mongolian diary involves rendering the author transparent. You see through his eyes (the credits indicate his gender), yet Mongolia prevails over the narrator, rather than the other way around. His remarks are sometimes droll, sometimes plain, sometimes personal; but always economical and nicely judged. Multimedia is a question of balance - and balancing the Gobi desert is no mean feat.

Interactive Wave has a Web site at http:// www.lvi-press.com/i-wave

Marek.kohn@mcr1.poptel.org.uk

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