A to Z of the digital world

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Indy Lifestyle Online
M is for multimedia. Perhaps the only instance in which computing has borrowed its jargon from advertising (probably via its sibling, the world of marketing).

A multimedia advertising campaign is one that runs in print media (newspapers, magazine), video (TV, cinema), picture (posters) and audio (radio).

By virtue of their enormous storage capacity (around 640 megabytes), CD-Roms can store digitised versions of all of those forms of information. That meant that when CD-Roms first began to be produced, the marketing people realised that, in commercial terms, they had something special: all-singing, all-dancing information on a disc.

But what could they call it? "CD-Rom" is too scientific. But multimedia has the advantage of sounding as though you should know what it means, since you know what the two parts of the word mean individually.

What multimedia came to mean in the early Nineties was hype: promises of a new experience on disc were flattened by slow access times and software which, while combining text, pictures and sound, was written by people whose experience lay in single disciplines (such as text) rather than the combination.

The disappointment was noted by consumers, who stayed away. Their reluctance to buy the multimedia hype was also heightened by the cost of CD-Rom drives, which were not standard kit on PCs.

The imbalance between the promises and the reality prompted one US computer executive to refer to multimedia as "that zero-billion-dollar industry".

Now, though, any new PC you buy will almost certainly contain a CD-Rom drive. There are also products on the market - encyclopaedias, games, and especially indefinable combinations of all sorts of things, such as educational films with text and games - that demonstrate that reality has begun to match the hype.

Multimedia is no longer a zero-billion-dollar industry, either: it's worth many billions (though exactly how many depends on where you draw the line: does it have to be on CD-Rom to be multimedia?)

The next step will be multimedia over the Internet, which is coming to fruition rapidly. With talk and pictures, and soon video, becoming available in real-time, the scion of advertising might be a reality. This will only mean that the marketing people will have to start looking around for something else to hype so that we can lust after it.

CHARLES ARTHUR

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